Child abuse: Worried about a child?

Child abuse: Worried about a child?

Find out who to contact if you are worried about the safety of a child or suspect abuse. Find out what medical services are available for children who have been abused and what happens when a child sees a doctor for sexual abuse. There is also information about surviving sexual abuse.

Key points to remember

If a child is in immediate danger, call the  police on 111 within New Zealand (use the appropriate emergency number in other countries). 

  • every child deserves to feel safe and have their needs met - it is everyone's responsibility to speak up if we have a concern
  • child abuse and neglect can affect children of any age, male and female, from all backgrounds and from every religion, race and culture
  • people who harm children are usually well known to the child or young person
  • if a child is in immediate danger, call the police on 111 within New Zealand (use the appropriate emergency number in other countries), or Oranga Tamariki (previously Child, Youth and Family) on 0508 326 459

What is child abuse?

​Child abuse can be sexual, physical, or emotional. It can also be neglect. Neglect may include:

  • not taking a child to the doctor when they are unwell
  • lack of supervision of a child by an adult
  • not giving a child proper food or clothing 

A child can experience more than one form of abuse at a time.

What can I do if I'm worried about a child?

  • if you are worried about a family you know and would like some advice, call Oranga Tamariki, Ministry of Vulnerable Children (previously Child, Youth and Family) on 0508 326 459 - they're there to help
  • social workers at Oranga Tamariki will be able to listen to your worries - they are trained to be able to help find solutions to family problems
  • if a child is in immediate danger, call the  police on 111 within New Zealand (use the appropriate emergency number in other countries), or Oranga Tamariki on 0508 326 459

What health services are available if I'm worried about child abuse?

If your child is hurt or unwell and you suspect abuse, seek help straight away.

There are a number of people and services that can help such as nurses and doctors, and social workers who work within the health system. Health social workers can help with a range of issues. They will listen to you and work with you to find support that is right for your situation. 

When should I seek help if my child is hurt or unwell?

If your child is hurt or unwell and you suspect abuse, it is very important to seek help straight away.

If your child needs urgent help, take them straight to the emergency department of your local hospital.  If you're not sure how serious the injury is, it is best to go to the hospital. The doctors and nurses there can check your child and make sure they are OK. 

If you don't think it's an emergency, there are a number of people who you can see. This could be a health professional such as your family doctor, school or Plunket nurse, or midwife.

Who will be involved?

If you take your child to hospital, a health professional with special skills will see your child.

They will examine your child and may do some tests. It depends on the type of harm to your child. The health professional will talk with you about everything and explain what's happening. 

Specialist services in some areas

In some areas, there are also other specialist health services who can help.

Auckland has Te Puaruruhau  - a  service for children and young people who have experienced abuse or neglect. This service is is in a building together with the police child protection team and Oranga Tamariki. You can contact the service yourself (on 09 307 2860 during working hours) or through other professionals such as your family doctor. 

You can ask your family doctor about other services available near you. 

In some areas of New Zealand, there are 'children's teams'. These teams were set up to give children and families/whānau the help they need quickly. Someone from the team  will sit down with you, your child and your family/whānau and talk to you about your child and their needs. 

What will happen if my child goes to the doctor about sexual abuse or assault?

The Doctors for Sexual Abuse Care website provides information for families and children on the medical care and assessment of sexual abuse and assault. Their leaflet 'Going to the doctor (PDF, 480KB)' provides information under the following headings:

  • why does my child need to see a doctor?
  • what sort of doctor will my child see?
  • what happens in the examination?
  • what tests are needed?
  • will the examination hurt?
  • what genital (or anal) injuries are likely?
  • can there be any permanent problems?
  • can I ask questions and discuss worries?
  • what other agencies need to be involved?
  • who will be given information about the examination?

Surviving sexual abuse


Counselling may help the healing process for a child or young person who has been the victim of abuse. As this is a very specialised area, wherever possible, your child should see an approved counsellor who has experience in this area.

Sometimes a child doesn't want to see someone immediately. They can choose to see a counsellor at a later date.

Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC) provides ACC-approved counsellors for children who have been sexually abused. ACC can help with some of the costs of counselling. You can find registered counsellors by region, including ACC-approved sexual abuse counsellors, at the ACC website

You can contact your local Citizens' Advice Bureau for details of local crisis counselling services, as these differ from centre to centre.

See the Doctors for Sexual Abuse Care (DSAC) website for a range of patient brochures.

Surviving sexual assault: The road to recovery

'Surviving sexual assault: The road to recovery (PDF, 42KB)' includes information under the following headings:

  • what is sexual assault?
  • sexual assault always involves the misuse of power and is a crime
  • is the attacker always a stranger?
  • there is help available for those who have been sexually assaulted or abused – no matter how long ago it happened
  • emotional care/counselling
  • physical care
  • what can the doctor do?
  • practical care
  • where to get help
  • DSAC regional coordinators (contact details)

Help for children and for adult survivors of child sexual abuse and assault 

The pamphlet 'Help for children and for adult survivors of child sexual abuse and assault (PDF, 44KB)' includes information under the following headings:

  • what is child sexual abuse or assault?
  • what children are at risk?
  • who does this to children?
  • what help is needed?
  • who can give this help?
  • sexual abuse is a hidden problem
  • where to seek help
  • DSAC regional coordinators (contact details)

What if I'm worried about my own behaviour?

If family members show fear of you, find you hard to talk to or feel they have to do what you want them to, you might need to consider changing your behaviour.

Help is available. If you want help with your behaviour, call the Family Violence Information Line on 0800 456 450 to find out about the organisations in your area which can help.

The content on this page has been developed and approved by the Clinical Network for Child Protection, Paediatric Society New Zealand. 

This page last reviewed 07 April 2017.
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