Child protection for healthcare providers

Key points about child abuse

  • This page contains information about child abuse for healthcare providers.
  • Find information on child abuse protection policies, what to do if you are concerned about a child and training to protect children.
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Child abuse is defined as any intentional action that physically, emotionally or sexually harms or injures a child. Abusers are commonly people trusted by the child or the family, and can be adults or young adults. Child abuse can happen to any children regardless of age, gender or race and sometimes can be difficult to identify.

Healthcare providers should consider and suspect child abuse in cases where there are risk factors for vulnerability, indicators of neglect and concerning features of child–caregiver interaction. Some of the signs include but are not limited to:

  • unexplained bruises, cuts or abrasions
  • burns marks
  • unexplained fractures or dislocations
  • behavioural concerns of the child such as emotional withdrawal or anxiety
  • developmental delays
  • poor child–caregiver interaction including adults hitting or yelling
  • children mentioning that they have been hurt by the caregiver or being fearful.

Other family risk factors include:

  • history of abuse or suspected abuse
  • family violence
  • severe social stress or lack of support
  • mental health problems in parents
  • drug or alcohol problems
  • children left home alone or being neglected
  • children repeatedly not attending school.

Under The Children's Act 2014, all organisations or providers of child services contracted by Health New Zealand | Te Whatu Ora and DHBs including GP clinics must have a child protection policy (CPP). Read more about children’s worker safety checking and child protection policies.(external link) As well as having a CPP, it is best practice to have an easy to follow procedure for what to do with concerns about a child. A flowchart seems to work best here and an example of a flowchart(external link) is provided by Health NZ | Te Whatu Ora. A Code of Conduct for all employees and volunteers is also considered best practice. An example Code of Conduct(external link) that could be adapted for use in specific organisations is provided by Health NZ | Te Whatu Ora. 

A child protection policy should outline a step-by-step procedure or guide on actions to keep children safe in an organisation. It also shows the organisation's commitment to child protection and provides trust to the public in safeguarding children. 

Always seek help if you have concerns about a child. Call the Police on 111 if you think the matter requires urgent attention. A Report of Concern can be made by calling 0508 FAMILY (0508 326 459) or by email to Safeguarding Children(external link) provides a guideline for making an effective Report of Concern(external link) detailing the information that will be helpful for the Police or Oranga Tamariki when you call:

  • The name of the child.
  • Date of birth (if known) or even approximate age.
  • Address of the child/whānau (if known).
  • Contact telephone numbers (if known).
  • Names of other children in the household/whānau/group/team.
  • Names of parents/carers.
  • Names of adults in the household.
  • Names of adult you are concerned about and their relationship/jobs connected to the child.
  • School or groups attended.
  • Name of GP and Plunket nurse.
  • What you are concerned about.
  • What you have seen or heard.
  • Who was present when you noticed something.
  • If it is an injury, draw it on a drawing of a body, or use a body map if you have one (indicate left and right).
  • When it happened.
  • What the child said (do not ask the child questions).
  • What the adult said or did that concerned you.
  • Whether it is a one-off incident or always occurring.
  • What you have already done to safeguard/protect the child.
  • Who else is aware of your concerns or shares your concerns.

Pass on any information if you think making the Report of Concern will increase the risk to the child (eg, violence/abduction). Also provide:

  • your name
  • your job title/relationship to the child
  • your contact number and organisation.

If you want to remain anonymous, please indicate that on the Report of Concern.

The following information taken from Auckland HealthPathways, NZ can be used as a guide to clinicians:

The links below include training to help you understand child abuse and neglect, the impact on children and young people and how you can help.

Credits: Healthify editorial team. Healthify is brought to you by Health Navigator Charitable Trust.

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