Signs of child 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 - it may be physical, sexual, emotional, or involve neglect.

There are numerous physical and behavioural indicators of child abuse and neglect. Many of the indicators are also indicative of other behavioural, physical and emotional problems unrelated to child abuse and neglect. It is important to consider each sign in the context of each child's circumstances.

The following list examples of possible behavioural indicators of abuse and neglect.  It is not an exhaustive list and provides a guide only to help you decide if your suspicions of abuse or neglect are reasonable, and should be reported to the Child Abuse Report Line.

Sexual abuse

  • genital injuries
  • bite marks
  • sexually transmitted diseases
  • persistent soiling or bedwetting
  • disturbed sleep
  • inappropriate sexual behaviour based on the child's age
  • promiscuous affection seeking behaviour
  • excessive masturbation which does not respond to boundaries or discipline
  • obsessive and compulsive washing
  • wariness of physical contact with others
  • unusual fear of having a nappy changed

Physical abuse

  • bruises in unlikely places (face, back, ears, hands, buttocks, upper thighs and soft parts of the body)
  • inconsistent or unexplained bruises
  • any bruising on a baby
  • pressure marks from fingers on the face, chest or back
  • weal, ligature or bite marks
  • skull fracture, subdural bleeding, multiple fractures of different ages
  • suspicious burns
  • poisoning or significant over-medicating

Emotional abuse

  • avoiding home (particularly if the abuser is in the family home)
  • running away or continually staying at friend's houses
  • fear of the dark, not wanting to go to bed, bedwetting or nightmares
  • lying or stealing
  • lack of trust in adults
  • poor self-image or self-esteem, poor academic performance, poor peer relationships
  • secretive, demanding or disruptive behaviour


  • failure to thrive
  • developmental delay
  • prone to illness
  • sallow or sickly appearance
  • abnormally high appetite, stealing or hoarding food
  • smelly or dirty appearance
  • untreated medical conditions

Related information

On this site


Children's Protection Act 1993

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Page last updated 29 November 2016

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Department for Child Protection
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