Signs of child abuse or neglect

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. The abuse may be physical, sexual, emotional, or involve neglect.

The following lists should be used as a guide only to help determine if your suspicions of abuse are well-founded, and should be the Child Abuse Report Line.

Sexual abuse

The following indicators may indicate sexual abuse:

  • genital injuries
  • bite marks
  • sexually transmitted diseases
  • persistent soiling or bedwetting
  • sleep disturbance
  • 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

The following indicators may indicate 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

The following indicators may indicate 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.


The following indicators may indicate neglect:

  • 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.

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    Page last updated 19 October 2021

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    Department for Child Protection
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