What is child abuse?

Physical child abuse is the non-accidental infliction of physical injury or harm of a child.

Examples of physical abuse may include beating, shaking or burning, assault with implements and female genital mutilation.

What are the physical indicators of physical child abuse?

Physical Indicators of physical child abuse include (but are not limited to):

  • evidence of physical injury that would not likely be the result of an accident
  • bruises or welts on facial areas and other areas of the body, (back, bottom, legs, arms and inner thighs)
  • burns from boiling water, oil or flames or burns that show the shape of the object used to make them, (iron, grill, cigarette)
  • fractures of the skull, jaw, nose and limbs, especially those not consistent with the explanation offered, or the type of injury possible at the child's age of development
  • cuts and grazes to the mouth, lips, gums, eye area, ears and external genitalia
  • bald patches where hair has been pulled out
  • multiple injuries, old and new
  • effects of poisoning
  • internal injuries.

What are the behavioural indicators of physical child abuse?

In an infant or toddler:

  • self-stimulatory behaviours, for example, rocking, head banging
  • crying excessively or not at all
  • listless and immobile and/or emaciated and pale
  • exhibits significant delays in gross motor development and coordination
  • their parent/carer is unresponsive or impatient to child's cues and unreceptive to support.

In all children, infants and toddlers:

  • disclosure of physical abuse, (by child, friend, family member)
  • inconsistent or unlikely explanation for cause of injury
  • wearing clothes unsuitable for weather conditions to hide injuries
  • wariness or fear of a parent, carer or guardian and reluctance to go home
  • unusual fear of physical contact with adults
  • fear of home, specific places or particular adults
  • unusually nervous, hyperactive, aggressive, disruptive and destructive to self and/or others
  • overly compliant, shy, withdrawn, passive and uncommunicative
  • change in sleeping patterns, fear of the dark or nightmares and regressive behaviour (bed-wetting)
  • no reaction or little emotion displayed when being hurt or threatened
  • habitual absences from the service without reasonable explanation, where regular attendance is expected
  • complaining of headaches, stomach pains or nausea without physiological basis, poor self-care or personal hygiene.