Types of harm

Child abuse refers to significant harm or injury to a child that is not caused by an accident.

It can be caused by:

  • the actions or behaviour of a parent, a person with parental responsibility or a person known to the child
  • a parent's failure to protect a child from being abused or neglected
  • repeated abusive or neglectful events that happen over time.

Harm can be one or more of the following types.

Physical harm 

This refers to physical injuries that are not accidental - or where there is significant risk of injury happening - due to the actions or lack of action of a parent or caregiver.

Sexual harm

This happens when any sexual activity involves a child, or sexual threats are made to a child.

It can include encouraging a child or young person to do, watch, or hear something sexually explicit.

Emotional harm

This happens when the behaviour or attitude of a parent or caregiver towards a child negatively affects (or could affect) the child's social, emotional or developmental growth.

It includes failure to provide for the child's:

  • emotional needs for nurturing and security
  • developmental needs for stimulation and interaction with other people and their environment.


This happens when a child's basic necessities of life are not met by their parent or caregiver.

Exposing a child to violence

This includes when a child is living in a home where family or domestic violence happening.


This information was adapted from the Parent Easy Guide series © Parenting SA, Government of South Australia.

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Last updated: 20 June 2018