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The Children, Young Persons and their Families Act defines abuse or neglect as (s3(1)):

  • sexual abuse; or
  • physical or emotional injury or other abuse, or neglect, to the extent that:
  1. the injured, abused or neglected person has suffered, or is likely to suffer, physical or psychological harm detrimental to the person's well-being; or
  2. the injured, abused or neglected person's physical or psychological development is in jeopardy.

Child abuse/neglect is considered to have occurred when a child has been subjected to emotional or physical actions or omissions. These acts or omissions need to have been so severe and persistent that significant harm or injury has occurred or is likely to occur to the child. Child abuse/neglect is also considered to have occurred where a child has been exposed or subjected to exploitative or inappropriate sexual acts.

Child abuse or neglect allegations are commonly grouped into the following categories:

  • emotional maltreatment;
  • physical maltreatment;
  • sexual maltreatment; and
  • neglect.

These categories do not represent ‘absolutes’, are not mutually exclusive and rarely reflect the complexity of circumstances that surround the harm.

Emotional Maltreatment

This describes the significant impairment of a child's social, emotional, cognitive or intellectual development and/or significant disturbance of the child's behaviour resulting from behaviours such as persistent hostility, rejection or scape-goating by family members or care-givers.

Children can experience emotional harm when they are not protected from violence. They can suffer harm either directly or indirectly, for example when:

  • they witness repeated abuse or violence;
  • violence is frequent within the home;
  • they are assaulted when attempting to intervene.

Physical Maltreatment

This includes significant physical harm or injury experienced by a child as the result of severe and/or persistent actions or omissions, such as:

  • injuries such as cuts, bruises, burns and fractures caused by a range of acts including beating or shaking; or
  • inappropriate administration of alcohol or drugs; or
  • attempted suffocation; or
  • excessive discipline or punishment; or
  • deliberate denial of a child's basic needs such as food, shelter or supervision to the extent that injury results.

Sexual Maltreatment

This occurs when a child has been exposed or subjected to sexual behaviours or acts which are exploitative and/or inappropriate to their age or developmental level. Harm that results from sexual maltreatment may include emotional trauma, physical injury or impaired development, although the harm resulting from the maltreatment may not be readily identifiable or apparent.

Neglect

Neglect is experienced by a child when the family or carer does not provide food, shelter or medical attention or supervision to such a severe and/or persistent extent that the child's development is or is likely to be significantly damaged or injury occurs or is likely to occur. This description mainly refers to harm resulting from acts of omission. The deliberate deprivation of a child's needs should be considered within the context of physical or emotional maltreatment.

Children and Domestic Violence

The Family Violence Act 2004 (Tas) grants children the ability to report acts of domestic violence and apply for a Family Violence Order (FVO). The Act provides harsh penalties for those adults convicted of committing such acts while a child was present. For a child to apply to the court for a Family Violence Order (FVO) the child must be capable of understanding the nature of the proceedings (s15(2)(c)). A copy of the application for a FVO must also be forwarded to the Secretary of the DHHS (s15(3)).

In considering whether a FVO should be made under the Act, the court must consider the safety and interests of the person for whose benefit the order is sought and any affected child to be of paramount importance (s18). While in sentencing, section 13 provides that the court may consider it to be an aggravating factor that the offender knew or was reckless as to whether a child was present on the premises at the time of the offence.

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