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 that 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 Child, Youth and Family on 0508 FAMILY (0508 326 459) for advice. If the social worker thinks the child is in immediate danger they will act on it within 24 hours.

Alternatively, if you aren’t sure you could call the Family Violence Information Line (0800 456 450) for advice.

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 are not sure but have concerns that abuse might be occurring and they can refer you to the appropriate agency depending on the situation.

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 from leaving their situation, then they could be considered a “vulnerable adult” under the Crimes Amendment (No 3) Act 2011. This makes it a criminal offence for their caregiver to ill-treat or neglect the person in their care, or to fail to protect to them from ill-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).

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 neglected or abused, then you have to report the abuse. Failure to do so could make you liable for up to ten years in prison.

If my neighbour has been beating their child and I don’t tell the Police that I’ve seen bruises on the child, could I be jailed?

It depends a lot on your relationship with the child:

1. People who are responsible for the care of the child or vulnerable adult (including staff members of a hospital, institution or residential care facility where the victim lives) can be charged with offences relating to ill-treating or neglecting a child or vulnerable adult.

As a neighbour, unless you are a caregiver for that child, you do not fall into this category of responsibility.

2. 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 ill-treatment or abuse.

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 – in which case it would be your legal duty to take reasonable steps to protect that child e.g. by telling the Police or Child, Youth and Family Services (0508 326 459) if you know that abuse is taking place.

Having said that, occasional bruises on a child – with no other symptoms of child abuse - could conceivably mean nothing more sinister than that the child lacks physical coordination.

See our information on child abuse for things to look out for, and what you can do.

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

It may be an adult who lives in the same house as the victim, or an adult who doesn’t live there but has frequent contact with them. 

To decide whether someone could be considered to be part of the household, the court will consider what relationship that person has with the people in the household, how often they visit and for how long, for example.

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

This part of the law also includes staff members of an institution, hospital or residence where the victim lives.

The people in my household are afraid we’ll get bashed for reporting abuse to the authorities

People in this situation can feel unable to help the victim because they’re scared for their own safety and that the Police can’t protect them – however they could still be prosecuted for failure to protect the victim.

Remember that when Child, Youth and Family 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 for help with finding an appropriate service, or read our other information about elder abuse, child abuse, and relationship abuse.

How can I share my experiences as someone who was in an abusive relationship?
The Campaign for Action on Family Violence (It’s Not OK) receives emails and letters from both 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.