Looking out for at risk children and families 

Whether it's inside or outside work, as family members, friends, neighbours or workmates, we all have opportunities to support parents and keep children safe. 

Some things to look out for

  • parents seem stressed or not coping
  • they are not able to live on the money they have
  • there are signs of drug or alcohol problems
  • parents don't have friends or family to help
  • adults are hitting or yelling
  • there are mental health problems
  • children are left home alone or seem to be neglected.

Ways to help

  • listen, and let them know you're there to help
  • provide encouragement and support
  • link them up with others who can offer the support they need
  • talk to someone experienced, for a different point of view or ideas for helping
  • if the family won't accept your help, let someone in the community know that you're concerned. This could be someone like a family support worker or church leader.

What is child abuse and how do I recognise it?

"Child abuse means the harming (whether physically, emotionally, or sexually), ill-treatment, abuse, neglect or deprivation of any child or young person."

While there are different definitions of abuse, the important thing is to think about the overall wellbeing or risk of harm to the child.

Often children are neglected or harmed when parents don't have the skills and knowledge to care for their children safely, or where the family system is not working well.

All types of abuse involve some form of emotional abuse. For example, a child who is physically assaulted will also suffer emotionally.

We have detailed information about the different types of abuse and how to recognise it in our guide, 'working together to keep children and young people safe'.

To order a copy, email us at webinfo@cyf.govt.nz.

Clusters of signs

If you're concerned about a child, it's not so important to be able to categorise the type of abuse you think may be going on - it's normal to feel uncertain.  However, if you notice a pattern forming or several signs that make you feel worried, this could be an indication that something's wrong.

These signs may include:

  • physical signs
  • behavioural concerns
  • developmental delays, changes or signs
  • the child talking about things that may indicate abuse
  • the family environment.

Should I be worried?

If you're ever concerned, there are some things you can ask yourself

What is going on in the family or child's life that could be affecting them?

Is the child's behaviour a sign of abuse, or are there other things going on in the family?

How is the child's behaviour?

Children can't easily describe what they are feeling, so their emotions often come out in their behaviour. If a child seems unusually difficult or withdrawn, aggressive or anxious, this may be a sign that something's not right at home.

How is the child's development?

If a child is suffering from abuse or neglect, this may affect their development in a number of areas. This should be assessed by professionals whether it is abuse or not, so they can get the right help.

Has the child or family hinted at, or said that something is wrong?

The child may be looking for ways to tell you that something is wrong, so listen carefully and take what they say seriously.

Are there signs of family violence?

People experiencing family violence may seem fearful or nervous, lack in confidence, and feel sad or angry a lot. Children need to be protected from family violence, so need the help of adults around them.

Do I sense the family is struggling, or the child is at risk in some way?

You might have a feeling that something is wrong, but there are no actual signs of abuse, and you can't quite put your finger on the problem. If you're worried, talk to someone. Maybe talking with the family will put your mind at rest, or give you a steer on what's happening. Or you could talk with colleagues or others working with the family.

Protecting children from sexual abuse

Simple conversations, like crossing the road safely, bullying and dealing with strangers, are subjects that you and your child might talk about. But what about staying safe from sexual abuse?

It’s a conversation no parent wants to have, but thankfully it doesn’t have to be scary. Check out these resources to help you have the simple conversations that  really can help keep your child safe.


Simple conversations to keep your child safe from abuse is a guide that has everything you need to get those conversations started. It is aimed at parents, helping you talk to your 5-11 year old child about their body, and what to do if they’re made to feel uncomfortable

"How can I protect my child from sexual abuse" is another helpful resource about knowing what to look out for and how to start a conversation. This can be ordered through The 'It's Not OK!' website.

Who should I talk to?

If you see something that concerns you, give us a call. We'll be happy to talk it through with you. Phone Child, Youth and Family on 0508 326 459

There are other people you can go to for help.