Physical child abuse

​​​Critical Information
  • Physical child abuse is the non-accidental infliction of physical injury or harm of a child. See: What is child abuse?
  • If you suspect that a child has or is being physically abused, or is at risk of physical abuse, you must respond by following: Four Critical Actions For Early Childhood Services

    These Actions are best practice and align with your duty of care obligations. 

In this section

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, e.g. 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, 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?

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, e.g. 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, e.g. 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.