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Printed: 29/11/2020
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Last updated: 12/08/2019

Definitions of abuse, neglect and harm

What is involved and signs to look out for.

Physical abuse

Physical abuse involves situations where a tamaiti has an injury or was at serious risk of injury. The harm could be deliberate or unintentionally result from a deliberate action.

Definition of physical abuse

Sexual abuse

Sexual abuse is any action where a tamaiti is used for a sexual purpose

Definition of sexual abuse

Emotional abuse

Emotional abuse is when the mental health and social and/or emotional functioning and development of te tamaiti has been damaged by their treatment.

Definition of emotional abuse


Neglect is failing to meet the basic needs of te tamaiti.

Definition of neglect

Serious differences

Te tamaiti can suffer serious harm when there are serious differences in the relationship between te tamaiti and their parent or caregiver, or between parents, guardians or caregivers of te tamaiti.

Definition of serious differences

Harmful behaviour

What distinguishes age-appropriate exploration from ‘harmful behaviour’ is the extent of the behaviour and the impact on te tamaiti.

Definition of harmful behaviour

Cumulative harm

Cumulative harm is the outcome of exposure to multiple episodes of abuse and/or neglect and/or family violence experienced by te tamaiti.

Definition of cumulative harm

Family violence

The emotional, psychological and physical wellbeing of te tamaiti can be affected when they’re exposed to family violence.

Definition of family violence

Unable or unwilling to care for or have abandoned te tamaiti

Parents are sometimes unable or unwilling to care for their tamaiti.

Definition of unable or unwilling to care for or have abandoned te tamaiti