Child abuse & neglect 

What is child abuse?

Child abuse can be physical (such as hitting a child), or emotional (such as saying things that really hurt a child’s feelings). Any form of abuse can be psychologically damaging to a child. Under the law, allowing your child to see the abuse of someone they have a personal relationship with also counts as abuse, for example if a child sees their father hit their mother.

Child abuse also includes sexual abuse, and neglect (i.e. failing to provide the child with food, clothing, shelter etc).

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What are some signs of child abuse?

Some of the signs of abuse and neglect are:

  • A child informing you that they are being abused or neglected
  • A child exhibiting seriously inappropriate behaviour
  • A pattern of injuries that the child is not willing to talk about
  • The child appears distressed or depressed without obvious reasons
  • The child seems afraid of their parents or caregivers

These are described in more detail on the Child Matters website.

If you have concerns about the wellbeing of a child you should take action - you can read the next question and answer for what to do if you suspect that a child is being abused.

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I’m concerned a child I know is being neglected. Should I contact someone to check it out?

Ask yourself the question: "Is the child safe?".
If you answer "No", report the suspected abuse immediately to Child Youth and Family Services (0508 FAMILY or 0508 326 459) or the Police, especially if you think that someone is in immediate danger. If you're not sure, you can call them just for advice. If the social worker who answers the call thinks the child is in immediate danger they will act on it within 24 hours.

You can also call the Family Violence Information Line (0800 456 450) for advice.

Child, Youth and Family Services has information on their website about what to do if you are worried about a family, as does the It’s Not OK website.

Some practical support you could offer the family includes: looking after the child occasionally to give the parents a break; if the family knows you well and trusts you, you might be able to put them in touch with services like Plunket or Barnardos, that can provide practical assistance. Other community organisations that may be able to help can be found on Family & Community Services' Family Services Directory.

If you have frequent contact with the child and their family, you could be breaking the law by not doing anything about it. See our information about the reporting abuse of children and vulnerable adults.  

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I’ve got a new baby and I’m getting really stressed. What can I do to keep my temper under control?

Looking after a new baby can be extremely stressful, no matter how much you love them. It can be hard to keep your temper when you are very tired and anxious. Friends, family or your partner may be able to help you reduce the stress by giving you breaks and helping with housework and cooking, but it may be a good idea to find professional support as well. 

Plunket offers very good general advice and support for new parents. All parents who choose to use Plunket’s services are offered a number of home visits, and can also make visits to the local Plunket clinic to monitor babies’ development and receive advice about feeding, sleeping, health issues etc. Plunket also runs group sessions for families with new babies. 

You can call Plunketline on 0800 933 922 at any time for help and support. So if your baby won’t stop crying in the middle of the night, and you are becoming distressed, give them a call.

Barnardos provides a range of courses and other services for families.

Parent Help provides a parent helpline (0800 568 856) which you can call any time, as well as parent education courses, counselling and anger management programmes.
To find help and support groups in your area, contact your local CAB.  

For more parenting advice and information, you should see our section on Parenting.

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My children have seen a lot of violence in our household. I’m concerned about them. Where can I go to get counselling and support for them?

Barnardos runs a children's safety programme to help children who have been exposed to domestic violence. This service is government-funded. For more information, follow the link and select the location closest to you.

Presbyterian Support provides counselling to children and their families, through Family Works. They have locations all over New Zealand. Counselling isn’t free, but financial assistance may be available.

If you live in Auckland, you can try Kidshine which is a free service for children who have been affected by domestic abuse.

You can also search the Family Services directory for providers of counseling services for young people. Note that fees may apply.