What is child abuse and neglect?

What is child abuse and neglect?

CFCA Resource Sheet— September 2018
Young girl walking in a puddle of water barefoot

If you require assistance or would like to talk to a trained professional about the issues described in this paper, please call Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800 or Lifeline on 13 11 14.

If you believe a child is in immediate danger call Police on 000.

Overview

The purpose of this resource sheet is to provide practitioners, policy makers and researchers with a working definition of child abuse and neglect. It provides a general definition of child abuse and neglect and definitions of the five commonly regarded subtypes.

The resource sheet provides information about: whether the abuse types constitute grounds for protection of a child under child protection law; and whether the abuse types are a crime under criminal law, with the possibility of punishment of the offender.

Introduction

For individuals working with children, it is important to be able to recognise child abuse and neglect when they come across it. For example, if a practitioner knows that, or has reason to believe that, a child is being hit or disciplined in a concerning way, the first question the practitioner must ask themselves – is this, or might this be, child abuse? If a practitioner believes or suspects child abuse or neglect, then a report must be made to child protection or the police (for more detail, see Mandatory Reporting of Child Abuse and Neglect).

Throughout this resource sheet, the term ‘children and young people’ is used. Although young people under the age of 18 are legally children (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare [AIHW], 2018)1, calling a young person a child can fail to acknowledge some important differences between children and young people, such as the difference in their desire and capacity for self-determination.

It is important to note that within much of the professional literature the terms ‘child abuse and neglect’ and ‘child maltreatment’ are used interchangeably. In this resource sheet, the term ‘child abuse and neglect’ is adopted because this is the term that is most commonly used in Australia.

Definition

The World Health Organization ([WHO], 2006, p. 9) defines child abuse and neglect as:

All forms of physical and/or emotional ill-treatment, sexual abuse, neglect or negligent treatment or commercial or other exploitation, resulting in actual or potential harm to the child’s health, survival, development or dignity in the context of a relationship of responsibility, trust or power.

Definitions of child abuse and neglect can include adults, young people and older children as the perpetrators of the abuse. It is commonly stated in legislation that the term ‘child abuse and neglect’ refers to behaviours and treatment that result in the actual and/or likelihood of harm to the child or young person. Furthermore, such behaviours may be intentional or unintentional and can include acts of omission (i.e. neglect) and commission (i.e. abuse) (Bromfield, 2005; Child Family Community Australia [CFCA], 2016).

Legal definitions of child abuse and neglect

Definitions of child abuse and neglect can be both legal and medical/psychological. Legal definitions tend to be broad, while medical definitions (such as what is provided by WHO, 2006) usually provide a more detailed explanation.

The way legislation defines child abuse and neglect matters. These laws have a direct influence on the outcomes of cases that are brought before a court. Legal definitions affect the attitudes and decisions of lawyers and judges. They affect the policies and practices of child protection agencies, and the training and attitudes of practitioners generally (Tomison & Tucci, 1997). They also set out acceptable standards of behaviour for the community (Australian Law Reform Commission [ALRC], 2010; Mathews & Bross, 2014).

There are two legal systems set up to respond to and prevent child abuse and neglect (ALRC, 2010; Plum, 2014):

  • the civil legal system
  • the criminal legal system.

The differences between the two legal systems are outlined in Table 1.

Table 1: Differences between the civil and criminal legal systems
  Civil child protection law Criminal child protection law
Focus Focus is on the future: the child’s safety and best interests Focus is on the past: judging the guilt of the accused
Outcome Decision about whether the child is in need of protection Punishment of the offender, which may involve incarceration
Standard of proof Lower standard of proof: ‘On the balance of probabilities’ Higher standard of proof: ‘Beyond reasonable doubt’

Child protection proceedings focus on whether the child is in need of protection (ALRC, 2010; Plum, 2014). They do not make a judgment about the guilt of an accused. For example, a child may have alleged sexual abuse by a parent. Although the truth of these allegations is clearly relevant to the child’s future safety, the focus of the child protection court is solely on the child’s future safety. The criminal court may have judged an individual innocent of the crime of child sexual abuse but this does not mean that the civil child protection courts cannot make a ruling about the future safety of the child.

A child protection response is not, nor should it be, contingent on securing a conviction. (ALRC, 2010, p. 939).

Criminal proceedings focus on judging the guilt of the accused, with the outcome providing for the punishment of the offender. Criminal proceedings generally focus on the past. An exception to this is the placement of a convicted child sex offender on a sex offender register, which is future focused and based on crimes the offender may commit in the future (Plum, 2014).

Subtypes of child abuse and neglect

Different types of child abuse and neglect have different features. It is important to distinguish between what are commonly regarded as the five main subtypes of child abuse and neglect:

  1. physical abuse
  2. emotional abuse
  3. neglect
  4. sexual abuse
  5. exposure to family violence.

The features of these subtypes are detailed below. Box 1 unpacks some of the difficulties and controversies around defining these five subtypes. 

Box 1: Difficulties and controversies around defining the subtypes

Although there is a broad consensus on the five subtypes of child abuse and neglect (see below), disagreement exists about exactly how to define and therefore recognise these subtypes. For example:

  • Parenting practices that are acceptable in one culture may be considered abusive in another culture. Some parenting practices are abusive regardless of culture. It can be difficult to know the difference.
  • There is debate in the literature (Broadley, 2014) – and variation across Australian jurisdictions (CFCA, 2016) – on whether definitions of child abuse should refer to the parental behaviours or to the harm to the child, or whether evidence of both should be required for its recognition (e.g. do we need to know that a parent has hit a child and for there to be a resulting injury to constitute physical abuse?).
  • Sometimes it can be difficult to know whether the parental behaviours are harmful enough to constitute child abuse. For example, in neglect cases practitioners can have different perceptions about what constitutes ‘good enough’ parenting (Turney, Platt, Selwyn, & Farmer, 2012).
  • The child protection legislation used in many Australian jurisdictions defines child abuse as a behaviour or action that causes a child significant harm. It can be difficult to know the point at which a child is suffering significant harm.
  • The child protection legislation used in many Australian jurisdictions also defines child abuse as a behaviour that is likely to cause significant harm. However, it can be difficult, even impossible, to predict whether a child who is apparently suffering no harm or suffering minor harm is likely to suffer significant harm in the future.
  • There is also the tricky issue of intent. Although there is no consensus among experts about whether the intent to cause harm is a necessary component of child abuse and neglect, some suggest that notions of culpability, motive and intent are important to many practitioners when making decisions about whether to describe an incident as child abuse and neglect (Platt & Turney, 2013).
  • Many parents who neglect their children do not intend to do so. Many of these parents struggle with issues such as poverty or a disability. When these issues are present, there is a responsibility on the state to provide support and assistance to the family. Are there limits on what support and assistance the state is to be expected to give?
  • Is child abuse and neglect an objective or subjective reality? For example, if legislators, policy makers and practitioners say that a sexual ‘relationship’ between a 19 year old and a 15 year old is sexual abuse but the 15 year old says that it is not, whose opinion holds the most weight? How might these judgements change as the age gap becomes greater?

It is not possible to provide definite answers to any of these questions. By drawing from research, their experience, using empathy and listening well, practitioners must exercise good professional judgement as they work with each unique child in each unique context. It is also important for human services, health, criminal justice and other professionals to make decisions collaboratively. For example, in the case of Indigenous children and children from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, it is important to involve specialist cultural advisers in planning and decision making.

1.  Physical abuse

The WHO (2006, p. 10) defines child physical abuse as:

The intentional use of physical force against a child that results in – or has a high likelihood of resulting in – harm for the child’s health, survival, development or dignity. This includes hitting, beating, kicking, shaking, biting, strangling, scalding, burning, poisoning and suffocating. Much physical violence against children in the home is inflicted with the object of punishing.

In all Australian jurisdictions, civil child protection legislation exists to protect children and young people from physical abuse. As previously stated, this civil legislation does not focus on the innocence or guilt of the alleged perpetrator, instead it focuses on the safety – particularly the future safety – of the child.

Jurisdictional criminal laws in Australia deal with severe cases of child physical abuse (such as those resulting in permanent or fatal injury) as offences of violence. The specific wording of these laws varies across jurisdictions (ALRC, 2010).

There is controversy about whether offences against children such as child physical abuse should be contained in civil child protection or criminal legislation. For example, some submissions to the ALRC (2010) argued that child abuse offences should be located in the criminal law and that violence against a child should not be considered less serious than such acts against an adult. Alternatively, it was suggested that such offences should be located in civil child protection legislation, then decisions about whether to recommend criminal action could be managed by child welfare experts.

The Commission’s view was that the best way forward was through cooperative relationships between professionals (i.e. child protection workers, police, health professionals and other human services workers), who can make joint decisions about which legislation to use depending on factors such as the nature and severity of the child abuse offence (ALRC, 2010). On the basis of the submissions received, the Commission made no specific recommendation for change.

2.  Emotional abuse

Emotional abuse is also sometimes called ‘emotional maltreatment’, ‘psychological maltreatment’ and ‘psychological abuse’.

Emotional abuse refers to a parent or caregiver's inappropriate verbal or symbolic acts towards a child and/or a pattern of failure over time to provide a child with adequate non-physical nurturing and emotional availability. Such acts of commission or omission are likely to damage a child's self-esteem or social competence (Bromfield, 2005; Garbarino, Guttman, & Seeley, 1986; WHO, 2006). According to a popular conception by Garbarino and colleagues (1986, p. 8), emotional abuse takes five main behavioural forms:

  • rejecting: the adult refuses to acknowledge the child's worth and the legitimacy of the child's needs
  • isolating: the adult cuts the child off from normal social experiences, prevents the child from forming friendships and makes the child believe that he or she is alone in the world
  • terrorising: the adult verbally assaults the child, creates a climate of fear, bullies and frightens the child, and makes the child believe that the world is capricious and hostile
  • ignoring: the adult deprives the child of essential stimulation and responsiveness, stifling emotional growth and intellectual development
  • corrupting: the adult ‘mis-socialises’ the child, stimulates the child to engage in destructive antisocial behaviour, reinforces that deviance, and makes the child unfit for normal social experience.

In all Australian jurisdictions, emotional abuse is grounds for ‘when a child is in need of protection’ (CFCA, 2016). These civil child protection laws enable child protection practitioners to intervene in cases of emotional abuse and make an application to the children’s court for a child’s protection. However, the difficulties in doing this are well documented (Broadley, 2014; Goddard, 1996; Sheehan, 2006).

In most jurisdictions child protection practitioners are required to provide the children’s court with evidence of a link between the actions of a parent and the outcomes for a child (Bromfield & Higgins, 2004). In cases of emotional abuse it can be ‘difficult, even impossible, to prove a direct link between the abuse and/or neglectful parental behaviours and the poor child outcomes’ (Broadley, 2014, p. 272).

Given these challenges, it is particularly important for child protection and child welfare professionals to work collaboratively to support families to build protective factors and protect children from emotional abuse.

3.  Neglect

According to WHO (2006, p. 10):

Neglect includes both isolated incidents, as well as a pattern of failure over time on the part of a parent or other family member to provide for the development and wellbeing of the child – where the parent is in a position to do so – in one or more of the following areas:

  • health
  • education
  • emotional development
  • nutrition
  • shelter and safe living conditions.

In all Australian jurisdictions, neglect is grounds for ‘when a child is in need of protection’ (CFCA, 2016). These cases can be difficult for child protection practitioners to take before the child protection court, particularly if the concerning parental behaviours are low impact and high frequency (as opposed to high impact and low frequency). The difficulty may be in proving a link between the parental behaviours and/or omissions and the child outcomes.

Courts may also be reluctant to determine a child needs protection when the parents are poor or when for some other reason they struggle to provide for their child’s basic needs. In these situations, there is a responsibility on the state to provide support and assistance to the parents; and the parents have a responsibility to engage with and utilise these supports (CFCA, 2016). NSW child protection legislation explicitly states that the children’s court ‘cannot conclude that the basic needs of a child or young person are likely not to be met only because of a parent’s or primary care-giver’s disability or poverty’ (CFCA, 2016).

In many Australian jurisdictions it is a criminal offence for those with parental responsibility to fail to provide a child with basic needs such as accommodation, food, education and health care. Across the jurisdictions, these laws are all drafted differently. For example, in the Northern Territory the offence relates to a child under two years. In NSW and Queensland, the offence relates to a child under seven years (ALRC, 2010).

For a more detailed overview of the issues surrounding child neglect, see the CFCA paper Understanding Child Neglect.

4.  Sexual abuse

The WHO (2006, p. 10) defines child sexual abuse as:

The involvement of a child in sexual activity that he or she does not fully comprehend, is unable to give informed consent to, or for which the child is not developmentally prepared, or else that violates the laws or social taboos of society. Children can be sexually abused by both adults and other children who are – by virtue of their age or stage of development – in a position of responsibility, trust or power over the victim.

In all Australian jurisdictions, sexual abuse is grounds for ‘when a child is in need of protection’ (CFCA, 2016). Commonly the child will not have a parent who has or who is likely to protect them.

Various jurisdictions have civil child protection legislation that provides for specific types of sexual abuse. For example, in the Northern Territory it is ‘involving the child as a participant or spectator … (in) an act of a sexual nature’ (CFCA, 2016); and in New South Wales where a child under the age of 14 has exhibited sexually abusive behaviours and requires intervention and treatment (CFCA, 2016).

There is a diversity of perpetrator characteristics, relationships and contexts within which child sexual abuse occurs (Quadara, Nagy, Higgins, & Siegel, 2015). In this resource sheet these different types of child sexual abuse are presented as:

  • adult abusers with no familial relationship to the child
  • adult abusers who are family members of the child
  • adult abusers who are in a position of power or authority over the child
  • sexual abuse that is perpetrated by children and young people
  • sibling sexual abuse
  • online child sexual abuse
  • commercial child sexual exploitation.

Australian jurisdictional criminal laws are referred to in each of these types.

Adult abusers with no familial relationship to the child

Extra-familial child sexual abuse is sexual abuse that is perpetrated by acquaintances of the child victim or the child victim’s family (Quadara et al., 2015).

Criminal laws across Australia consider sexual abuse to be sexual activity between any adult and a child under the age of consent. The age of consent is 16 years in most Australian jurisdictions (see CFCA resource sheet Age of Consent Laws for a more detailed discussion). Therefore, in Australia, consensual sexual activity between a 20 year old and a 15 year old is a crime, while in most jurisdictions2 the same activity between a 20 year old and a 17 year old is not a crime.

Under civil child protection legislation, a child or young person is in need of protection from an extra-familial abuser if the parents or carers are unwilling or unable (or are likely to be unwilling or unable) to protect the child or young person from the sexual abuse.

Adult abusers who are family members of the child

Intra-familial child sexual abuse is considered to be the most prevalent type of child sexual abuse (Quadara et al., 2015). Perpetrators within this context include fathers, mothers, step-fathers, step-mothers, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents. (The following sections ‘Sexual abuse that is perpetrated by children and young people’ and ‘Sibling sexual abuse’ can involve intra-familial child sexual abuse.)

In most Australian jurisdictions, sexual activity in the context of biological, step-family and adoptive relationships are covered by incest provisions (ALRC, 2010). In some jurisdictions, the incest offence applies regardless of age. In other jurisdictions, general child sexual abuse offences are applicable to children and the incest offence relates to situations where the victim is over the age of 16 years (ALRC, 2010).

Under child protection legislation, a child or young person needs protection from an intra-familial abuser if there is no parent or carer who is (or who is likely to be) willing and able to protect the child or young person from the sexual abuse.

Adult abusers who are in a position of power or authority over the child

Child sexual abuse occurs when there is any sexual behaviour between a child and an adult in a position of power or authority over them (e.g. a teacher).

Under child protection legislation a child or young person needs protection if the parents or carers are not able, or are unlikely to be willing, to protect the child or young person from the sexual abuse.

The general age of consent laws are inapplicable in these cases due to the strong imbalance of power that exists between children and young people and authority figures, as well as the breach of personal and public trust that occurs when professional boundaries are violated. For example, in NSW there is a provision for the criminal offence of ‘sexual intercourse with a child between 16 and 18 under special care’ (e.g. when the adult is a teacher, health professional or religious leader) (ALRC, 2010; Australian Legal Information Institute, 2018).

Sexual abuse that is perpetrated by children and young people

The terminology used to describe child sexual abuse that is perpetrated by children and young people is changeable (El-Murr, 2017). It is important not to demonise the children and young people engaging in the abusive behaviour by calling them perpetrators or sex offenders (El-Murr, 2017; Fernandez, 2016). These children and young people are still developing and growing. Labelling them may shame them and may deter them and their families from engaging with treatment and support (Fernandez, 2016).

However, it is important not to deny or minimise the harm that these children and young people cause to their victims and to themselves (El-Murr, 2017; Fernandez, 2016). El-Murr (2017) uses the term ‘problem sexual behaviours’ to describe ‘sexual behaviours that lie outside the range of age-appropriate behaviours and are demonstrated by children below the age of criminal responsibility’, and ‘sexually abusive behaviours’ as ‘behaviours displayed by those 10 up to 18 years and which have legal consequences’ but acknowledges that these terms also have their risks (see CFCA paper Problem Sexual Behaviours and Sexually Abusive Behaviours in Australian Children and Young People for a more detailed discussion).

Research suggests that this type of sexual abuse is common, and that children and young people are most likely to experience sexual harm from other children and young people (El-Murr, 2017). Such abuse often involves an older child or young person coercing or forcing a child who is younger, smaller or where there are marked developmental differences (e.g. if the victim child has a disability) into sexual activity (El-Murr, 2017). Even when there is no information to suggest coercion, manipulation or force, this does not mean an absence of manipulation or pressure. If a child’s sexual activity is out of the ordinary for his or her age, then regardless of whether or not there is an apparent power imbalance, professional help should be sought.

Some Australian jurisdictions have child protection legislation (e.g. New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia and Victoria) that allows for a diversionary pathway in place of a criminal justice response (El-Murr, 2017).  In most other jurisdictions these offences are dealt with by the criminal division of the children’s court (El-Murr, 2017).

In some jurisdictions young people who have been found guilty of a child sexual abuse offence may be included on the sex offender register (Victorian Law Reform Commission (VLRC), 2014).

Sibling sexual abuse

Research suggests that sibling sexual abuse occurs at similar or higher rates to other types of intra-familial sexual abuse (Quadara et al., 2015; Stathopoulos, 2012). This type of sexual abuse is when there is sexual activity between a child or young person and a sibling that is non-consensual or coercive, or where there is an inequality of power or development between them.

As stated above, there is civil child protection legislation in some Australian jurisdictions to enable therapeutic treatment for these children and young people in place of a criminal justice response. In other jurisdictions the question of whether there will be criminal justice intervention will depend on the age of the children and the nature of the offence (El-Murr, 2017).

Although consensual and (apparently) non-coercive sexual behaviour between similarly aged siblings may not be considered child sexual abuse, it is considered problematic and harmful, and professional intervention should be sought.

Online child sexual abuse

Online child sexual abuse can cause additional harm to children and young people beyond the abusive experience itself (Quayle, 2013). Due to digital technology, offenders are able to take photos and videos of children and young people being sexually abused with little cost or effort, and often in the privacy of their own homes (Broughton, 2009). They are then able to communicate with other offenders via the internet and distribute their material online. These photos and videos are a permanent product of the abuse. They may resurface at any time and this leaves victims with a lifelong fear of exposure, exacerbating the damage (Broughton, 2009; Quayle, 2013). Offenders often use these images to manipulate victims into silence by threatening exposure should the child or young person ever talk about the abuse (Broughton, 2009).

Online child sexual abuse may also involve sexting (sending messages with sexual photos or videos via a mobile phone or posting online) (Queensland Sentencing Advisory Council, 2017). A decision about whether or not sexting constitutes child sexual abuse will depend on the particulars of the situation, including the ages of the children and young people involved. Sexting laws differ across Australian jurisdictions. For example, in Victoria it is a criminal offence for someone over the age of 18 years to send an image of someone who is under the age of 18 years posing in an indecent sexual manner to a third party, even if the child or young person has given consent (Victoria Legal Aid, 2014). (See CFCA resource sheet Images of Children and Young People Online for further details).

Civil child protection legislation provides protection for children and young people who are or who are likely to be victims of online child sexual abuse. This may, for example, involve statutory child protection authorities intervening to protect a child whose parent has accessed child exploitation material on the internet.

Online child sexual abuse and child exploitation material offences over the internet are international crimes constituting a global problem (Queensland Sentencing Advisory Council, 2017). Online child sexual offences are dealt with in Commonwealth and jurisdictional criminal legislation. These laws cover access, possession, distribution and the making of material. Although there are definitional differences across jurisdictions, all Australian jurisdictions agree that such activities and materials must be criminalised (Queensland Sentencing Advisory Council, 2017).

Commercial child sexual exploitation

Commercial child sexual exploitation includes:

  • the production and distribution of child exploitation material
  • exploiting children for prostitution (sometimes called child prostitution), which may involve promising money, food, clothing, accommodation or drugs to a child, or more often to a third person, in exchange for sexually abusing the child
  • the abduction and trafficking of children for sexual abuse purposes, which can occur within or across countries
  • sexual exploitation of children in the context of tourism (sometimes called child sex tourism)3 where individuals (generally Western men) travel from higher to lower income countries for the purpose of sexually exploiting children (Cameron et al., 2015; Interagency Working Group in Luxembourg, 2016; Johnson, 2014).

In Australia, the individual states and territories have their own unique sets of laws that criminalise all forms of commercial sexual exploitation of children. Although there are differences in how it is defined across jurisdictions, there is an overall commitment to working with other governments (domestic and international) to prevent commercial child sexual exploitation, to prosecute perpetrators and to protect victims (Cameron et al., 2015). For example, in Australia the sexual exploitation of children in the context of tourism offences have been in place since 1994. In 2010 the laws were reformed to broaden the scope of criminalised activities and increase penalties. The Australian Federal Police are active in their efforts to protect children in foreign countries and to prosecute child sex offenders in the context of tourism. There have been a number of successful prosecutions of Australians involved in these crimes (Johnson, 2014).

5.  Exposure to family violence

Children and young people are often a hidden population within the family violence literature and discourse. Richards (2011, p. 1) refers to them as ‘silent, forgotten, unintended, invisible and/or secondary victims’. Forcing a child or young person to live in an environment where a primary caregiver experiences sustained violence is in and of itself emotional and psychological abuse (Goddard & Bedi, 2010). Children and young people who are forced to live with violence are at increased risk of experiencing physical and sexual abuse (Dwyer & Miller, 2014; Goddard & Bedi, 2010; Mitchell, 2011). These children and young people tend to experience significant disruptions in their psychosocial wellbeing, often exhibiting a similar pattern of symptoms to other abused or neglected children (Kitzmann, Gaylord, Holt, & Kenny, 2003; Mitchell, 2011).

Family violence commonly occurs with inter-related problems such as drug and alcohol misuse and mental illness. These inter-related problems exacerbate and increase the risks to children in these families (Bromfield, Lamont, Parker, & Horsfall, 2010; Mitchell, 2011).

In all Australian jurisdictions, exposure to family violence is grounds for ‘when a child is in need of protection’ (CFCA, 2016). It is normally dealt with under the category of emotional and psychological abuse. However, in some jurisdictions (e.g. NSW and Tasmania) there is specific mention of family violence as grounds for protection (CFCA, 2016).

Additional forms of child abuse and neglect

As well as the five main subtypes of child abuse and neglect, researchers have identified other types, including:

  • fetal abuse (e.g. unborn babies who are harmed or placed at risk of harm as a result of maternal drug or alcohol use)
  • exposure to community violence
  • institutional abuse (i.e. abuse that occurs in institutions such as foster homes, group homes, and religious and sporting groups)
  • state-sanctioned abuse (e.g. female genital mutilation in parts of Africa, the Stolen Generations in Australia) (Corby, 2006; Miller-Perrin & Perrin, 2007).

The relationships between the different subtypes of child abuse and neglect

Although it is useful to distinguish between the different subtypes of child abuse and neglect in order to understand and identify them more thoroughly, it can also be slightly misleading. It is misleading if it creates the impression that there are always strong lines of demarcation between the different abuse subtypes, or that abuse subtypes usually occur in isolation. There is a growing body of evidence to suggest many children who are abused or neglected are subjected to multiple forms of abuse and neglect (Price-Robertson, Rush, Wall, & Higgins, 2013). White, Hindley, & Jones (2015), for example, found that neglect (as opposed to other abuse types) is a particularly strong predictor of all other abuse types. Goddard and Bedi (2010, p. 7) found there were ‘high rates of overlap’ between intimate partner violence and child physical and sexual abuse. Vachon, Krueger, Rogosch, & Cicchetti (2015, p. 1140) found that child sexual abuse is ‘almost always accompanied’ by other types of child abuse and neglect.

Conclusion

Answering the question ‘what is child abuse and neglect?’ is not always a straightforward task. Cultural differences, questions about thresholds (at what point is the child experiencing significant harm?), determining ‘good enough’ parenting, and predicting likelihood of harm all give reason for pause and reflection. In order to make appropriate determinations about whether a child is or is not being abused it is important that professionals in all parts of the service system know the relevant laws and research findings, that they value and practice interdisciplinary work, and that their assessments and decisions are informed by the voices and experiences of children, young people and families.

For further reading see the CFCA publications:

References

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1 In Australia children and young people are those under the age of 18 (AIHW, 2018). The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child also defines a child as any human under the age of 18 years (United Nations, 1989).

2 In Queensland, consensual anal sex is considered to be an offence when the activity involves any person under the age of 18 years.

3 The use of terms such as child prostitution and child sex tourism imply that the child has given informed consent to the sexual abuse. The terms used in this resource sheet have been chosen because they better reflect the fact that the child is a victim of abuse and exploitation (Interagency Working Group in Luxembourg, 2016).

Authors and Acknowledgements

This paper was updated by Karen Broadley, Senior Research Officer with the Child Family Community Australia information exchange at the Australian Institute of Family Studies. 

Previous editions have been compiled by Kathryn Goldsworthy, Rhys Price-Robertson, Leah Bromfield and Nick Richardson.

The feature image is by Aurimas, CC BY-ND 2.0.

Publication details

CFCA Resource Sheet
Published by the Australian Institute of Family Studies, September 2018.
Last updated September 2018

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