How to respond to a child about abuse or neglect

Call 000 in an emergency.

To report a reasonable suspicion that a child has been or is being abused or neglected phone the Child Abuse Report Line (CARL) on 131 478.

Child abuse can happen to any child in any family. Such abuse may be physical, sexual, emotional, or involve neglect.

When a child reveals abuse or neglect, the most important thing is to make sure they feel supported and safe.

After a child has told you about abuse or neglect

You can show your care and concern by:

  • remembering the child may be experiencing a crisis
  • listening carefully
  • controlling your own expressions of panic or shock
  • taking what the child says seriously
  • using the child's own vocabulary
  • telling the child that this has happened to other children and that some adults do wrong things
  • reassuring the child that they have done the right thing by telling you
  • telling the child you will do your best to support them but do not make promises you may not be able to keep
  • talk to the child about people in their network who are a support or make them feel safe
  • explaining to the child that you need to tell someone who can help them.

Clarifying the situation

You may need to ask more questions to clarify the situation. This will facilitate CARL social workers in their assessment of risk to the child. Open questions are the best way to gain more information from children. Examples of open questions are:

  • How did it happen?
  • What happened?
  • Who was there?
  • How does it make you feel?
  • How often does it happen?
  • How does the other person react?
  • When did it happen?

Leading questions should not be asked as children often get confused. Examples of leading questions are:

  • Did mum or dad hit you?
  • Did mum or dad leave you by yourself again?
  • I bet that made you cry?

Related information

On this site

Report child abuse or neglect

Other websites

Responding to Risks of Harm, Abuse and Neglect (RRHAN-EC) training - Department for Education


Children's Protection Act 1993

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Page last updated 30 June 2021

Provided by:
Department for Child Protection
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