Justice Home > Victims Services and Support

Child abuse      

What is child abuse?

Child abuse can include neglect, sexual, physical and emotional abuse.

Neglect

Child neglect is the continued failure by a parent or caregiver to provide a child with the basic things needed for his or her proper growth and development, such as food, clothing, shelter, medical and dental care and adequate supervision.

Sexual abuse

Sexual abuse is when someone involves a child or young person in a sexual activity by using their power over them or taking advantage of their trust. Often children are bribed or threatened physically and psychologically to make them participate in the activity. Child sexual abuse is a crime.

Physical abuse

Physical abuse is a non-accidental injury or pattern of injuries to a child caused by a parent, caregiver or any other person. It includes but is not limited to injuries which are caused by excessive discipline, severe beatings or shakings, cigarette burns, attempted strangulation and female genital mutilation. Injuries include bruising, lacerations or welts, burns, fractures or dislocation of joints. Hitting a child around the head or neck and/or using a stick, belt or other object to discipline or punishing a child (in a non-trivial way) is a crime.

Psychological abuse or harm

Serious psychological harm can occur where the behaviour of their parent or caregiver damages the confidence and self esteem of the child or young person, resulting in serious emotional deprivation or trauma.

Although it is possible for 'one-off' incidents to cause serious harm, in general it is the frequency, persistence and duration of the parental or carer behaviour that is instrumental in defining the consequences for the child.

This can include a range of behaviours such as excessive criticism, withholding affection, exposure to domestic violence, intimidation or threatening behaviour.

For more information on what is abuse and the signs of abuse go to the What is Child Abuse page on the Community Services website

Reporting child abuse - Community Services

To report child abuse phone the Community Services Helpline on 132 111.

Anyone who suspects, on reasonable grounds, that a child or young person is at risk of being neglected or physically, sexually or emotionally abused, should report child abuse to Community Services.

Reporting child abuse to Community Services is mandatory for people who work with children if the child is under 16 years and has been sexually or physically assaulted. Community Services will refer reports of assaults on children to a Joint Investigation Response Team for investigation (JIRT).

For further information about reporting child abuse please visit the "Reporting suspected abuse or neglect" page on the Community Services website or call the Community Services Helpline on 132 111.

Child Abuse Investigation - Joint Investigative Response Teams (JIRT)

Reports of serious child abuse cases are investigated by JIRTs. These teams are made up of NSW Community Services, NSW Police and NSW Health professionals. All JIRT people have special training in working with children.

JIRT works together on serious child abuse cases where a child under 16 has been:

  • touched or harmed in a sexual way by someone aged over 10

  • badly hurt, strangled, burned or starved by someone aged over 10

JIRT officers include:

  • Police Officers: who find out whether the law has been broken and conducts criminal investigations.

  • Community Services workers: who help the child and the family to keep the child safe. They may do things like finding a safe place for them to live or helping them into a support program.

  • Health workers: who are often counsellors who listen to and support the child, parents and carers. They also make sure the child sees a doctor or nurse if they need to.

When and how is a matter referred to a JIRT?    

Referrals to JIRT can only be made through Community Services Helpline or a Community Services Centre (CSC). Joint investigation occurs when a Community Services Child Protection Caseworker (CPC) and Police officer investigate a report of child abuse that meets the JIRT criteria -mostly when there is a possibility the abuse constitutes a criminal offence. The process includes completing a risk assessment and determining the need for Children's Court action and/or criminal charges.

What happens if a JIRT is involved?    

JIRT will talk to the child to find out what has happened.
Sometimes nothing has happened, but JIRT will usually talk to the child to check this.

If the child is in immediate danger, JIRT acts quickly to make them safe.

If the child is not immediate danger, JIRT lets the family know what happens next.

More information about Joint Investigative Response Teams is available on the Community Services website.

Will the child have to go to court?

Yes, the abused child and other witnesses may have to go to court.

Police from the JIRT will talk to the family about the court and legal process , and someone will help the child prepare for court.

Child witnesses are treated differently by our legal system in recognition of their special needs. There are specific provisions for child witnesses to help them through the court process such as CCTV, screens and video/audio evidence. Court cases involving children are however dealt with extra sensitivity - please refer to court support for children and victims of sexual assault

Help and support links

Help and support > Specific crimes > Child abuse
Help and support > Specific needs > Children
A crime is committed > Recovering from crime
A crime is committed > Medical, forensics and evidence
Information sheet - Helping children cope with trauma (PDF, 107Kb). 2pp
Safety and protection
NSW Police webpage on Children
Child Abuse Prevention Service (a non government organisation)