Physical child abuse

Critical Information

What is physical child abuse?

Physical child abuse can consist of any non-accidental infliction of physical violence on a child by any person. Examples of physical abuse may include beating, shaking or burning, assault with implements and female genital mutilation (FGM).

What are the physical indicators of physical child abuse?

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

  • bruises or welts on facial areas and other areas of the body, e.g. back, bottom, legs, arms and inner thighs
  • bruises or welts in unusual configurations, or those that look like the object used to make the injury, e.g. fingerprints, handprints, buckles, iron or teeth
  • burns from boiling water, oil or flames or burns that show the shape of the object used to make them, e.g. 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?

Behavioural indicators of physical child abuse include (but are not limited to):

  • disclosure of an injury inflicted by someone else (parent, carer or guardian), or an inconsistent or unlikely explanation or inability to remember the cause of injury
  • unusual fear of physical contact with adults
  • aggressive behaviour
  • disproportionate reaction to events
  • wearing clothes unsuitable for weather conditions to hide injuries
  • wariness or fear of a parent, carer or guardian
  • reluctance to go home
  • no reaction or little emotion displayed when being hurt or threatened
  • habitual absences from school without reasonable explanation
  • overly compliant, shy, withdrawn, passive and uncommunicative
  • unusually nervous, hyperactive, aggressive, disruptive and destructive to self and/or others
  • poor sleeping patterns, fear of the dark or nightmares and regressive behaviour, e.g. bed-wetting
  • drug or alcohol misuse, suicide or self-harm

Please note that physical harm may also be caused by student fights and/or bullying.

For advice on:

Government schools can contact the DET Security Services Unit on (03) 9589 6266 to report a student fight and for advice on an appropriate response.

Catholic schools can also contact their Diocesan education office:

  • Archdiocese of Melbourne: Student Wellbeing Information Line on (03) 9267 0228
  • Diocese of Sale: Senior Education Consultant on (03) 5622 6600
  • Diocese of Ballarat: Student Wellbeing on (03) 5337 7135
  • Diocese of Sandhurst: Team Leader Pastoral Wellbeing on (03) 5443 2377
  • Independent schools can contact Independent Schools Victoria on (03) 9825 7200