Recognising abuse and neglect

Make sure you know what abuse and neglect are, and how to recognise the signs.

Abuse is harming a child:

  • physically (eg, giving them hidings)
  • emotionally (eg, yelling or swearing at them, shaming or rejecting them)
  • sexually (eg, involving them in sexual activities).
‘I didn’t know it could start with the little things like withdrawing love.’

Neglect is failing to meet a child’s physical and emotional needs – that is, not giving them the care, supervision, love and attention they need to grow up safely and happily (eg, failure to provide food, warm clothing or health care).

Emotional abuse and neglect can cause serious and long-term damage.

When should I be worried?

The early stages of abuse and neglect can be hard to pick up – but over time small things can develop into serious concerns.

Listed below are different situations that can lead to problems, or be early signs of things going wrong. They are only examples – there may be other signs that a child needs help.

Parents might need extra support

Some things make life extra hard for parents, and sometimes that can lead to problems for the kids:

  • money problems, being out of work
  • overcrowding or housing struggles
  • parents seem over-stressed
  • child with special needs
  • isolated from friends, family and whānau
  • parents fighting and yelling
  • history of depression or other mental illness
  • parents separating.

Early help can stop things getting worse down the track. Keep an eye on the situation and offer help and support where you can.

Early signs of abuse and neglect

These include problems that need to be checked out:

  • parent has a drug, alcohol or gambling problem
  • parent does not engage with their child or has a difficult relationship with them
  • child doesn’t have enough clothes on and is often cold and hungry
  • child has unexplained or changeable emotions (eg, withdrawn or depressed)
  • parents frequently yell at, swear at or shame a child
  • child seems scared of a particular adult.

Talk to others about your concerns and what you can do to help. See What you can do for more on how to take early action.

Serious signs of abuse and neglect

Signs that a child’s safety and wellbeing is in danger include:

  • child tells someone they have been abused (eg, have been hit, touched or are frightened)
  • young child home alone or unsupervised near roads or water
  • child threatened with hidings and/or regularly hit by an adult
  • child exposed to violence between adults in the house
  • baby or toddler left unsupervised in cot or car seat for long periods of time
  • baby or child with unexplained or untreated injuries.

You need to take urgent action by contacting Oranga Tamariki – Ministry for Children on 0508 326 459 or the police on 111. If you are concerned that your safety may be put at risk by reporting and wish to remain anonymous, phone Crimestoppers NZ on 0800 555 111.

If in doubt, trust your instincts – and don’t wait, act. See What you can do.

For more warning signs of abuse and neglect visit the Oranga Tamariki – Ministry for Children website.

The quotes included in this material are from ordinary New Zealanders who’ve taken action to keep a child safe. Be one of them.

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