Reporting abuse of children and vulnerable adults 

What should I do if I suspect a child or vulnerable adult in another household is being neglected or abused?

If you think someone is in immediate danger, call the Police.

Concern about child abuse or neglect
If you have concerns about the safety of a child, you can call the Ministry for Vulnerable Children, Oranga Tamariki (Oranga Tamariki) on 0508 326 459 for advice. If the social worker who takes your call thinks the child is in immediate danger they will take action within 24 hours - otherwise a social worker will visit the family at some stage. The family won’t be told who contacted Oranga Tamariki.

Concerns about elder abuse
You can contact one of the Elder Abuse and Neglect Prevention (EANP) services, listed on the Age Concern website.

The EANP service’s main focus is prevention, but you can call them if you have concerns that abuse might be occurring. They will refer you to the appropriate agency.

Your local CAB can help you find an EANP service near you.

If an older person is being abused or neglected, and their condition prevents them getting away from the situation, then they could be considered a “vulnerable adult” under the Crimes Amendment (No 3) Act 2011. The Act makes it a criminal offence for a caregiver to mis-treat or neglect the person in their care, or to fail to protect to them from mis-treatment or neglect.

Concerns about domestic violence:
Shine has a Domestic Abuse Helpline (0508 744 633).
The Campaign for Action against Family Violence (It’s Not OK!) has a help line (0800 456 450).

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Is it a crime if someone fails to report abuse that they know about?

In general there is no law that says you have to report an incidence of abuse, or an abusive situation.

However, if a child or vulnerable adult in your household is being seriously neglected or abused, then you must report the abuse. Failure to do so could make you liable for up to ten years in prison.

Even if you are not living with the victim, if you have frequent contact with the child or vulnerable adult and their family, and know the person is being mistreated, you could be breaking the law by not doing anything about it.

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If my neighbours have been hurting their child and I don’t tell the Police that I’ve seen bruises on the child, could I be jailed?

It depends on your relationship with the family and the child:

People who are responsible for the care of a child or vulnerable adult can be charged with offences relating to ill-treating or neglecting that person. As a neighbour, unless you are a caregiver for that child, you do not fall into this category of responsibility.

Parents, caregivers, and other people in the victim’s household (including people who don’t live there but could be considered as part of the household) can be liable for failing to take reasonable steps to protect a child or a vulnerable adult from known risk of serious ill-treatment or abuse. Again, as a neighbour, you might not fall into this category.

However, if you have a lot of contact with the child or visit the child’s home frequently, then you might be considered part of their household. If that is the case it would be your legal duty to take reasonable steps to protect that child e.g. by telling the Police or the Ministry for Vulnerable Children, Oranga Tamariki on 0508 326 459 or contact@mvcot.govt.nz if you know that abuse is taking place.

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How does the court decide whether someone is "part of the household" of an abuse victim?

An adult who lives in the same house as the victim is likely to be considered part of the victim’s household. The law says that an adult who doesn’t live in the same house as the victim but has frequent contact with that family could also be considered to be part of the victim’s household. 

To decide whether someone should be considered to be part of the victim’s household, the court will consider things like what relationship that person has with the people in the household, how often they visit the household and for how long.

If the victim lives in different places (e.g. a child alternating between one parent’s home and the other’s), then the household in question is the one in which the alleged abuse occurred.

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Abuse is happening in my household, but I’m afraid to report it to the authorities

People in your situation can feel unable to help the victim because they’re scared for their own safety and worried that the Police won’t be able to protect them. Even so, you could still be prosecuted for failure to protect the victim (see above). 

Remember that when the Ministry for Vulnerable Children, Oranga Tamariki receives a “report of concern” about the possible abuse or neglect of a child, they won’t identify the caller to the family. If you are living in a situation where abuse or neglect is occurring (either to yourself or someone else in your household), there are some community agencies that can help, such as:

Another option is to contact your lawyer.

You can talk to your local CAB about finding an appropriate service, or read our other information about elder abuse, child abuse, and relationship abuse.

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How can I share my experiences as someone who was in an abusive relationship?

You could share your story by sending it to the Campaign for Action on Family Violence (It’s Not OK). They share stories on their website from survivors of family violence and people who have been violent towards their families.

The Disability Clothesline is a forum for talking about abuse of disabled people. It is run by Disability Coalition against Violence.