Child abuse


While child abuse has always existed, most children do not experience abuse. The Government updated Children First, National Guidelines for the Protection and Welfare of Children (pdf) in 2011 [added text 2012 (pdf)]. It emphasises that the welfare of children is of paramount importance. The Guidelines are intended to help in the identification and reporting of child abuse. The government is putting Children First on a legislative basis through the Children First Act 2015 to ensure compliance by all organisations working with children.

What is child abuse?

Under the Guidelines child abuse is categorised into four different types. A child may experience more than one form of abuse.

The four types of abuse are:

  • Neglect
  • Emotional abuse
  • Physical abuse
  • Sexual abuse


Neglect occurs where a child suffers significant harm by being deprived of such things as food, clothes, hygiene, medical care, intellectual stimulation and supervision. The neglect generally becomes apparent in different ways over time rather than at a specific point. Significant harm occurs where the child’s needs are neglected to such an extent that his/her wellbeing and/or development are severely affected.

Emotional abuse

Emotional abuse occurs where a child’s need for affection, approval and security is not being met by the child’s parents or carer. Examples of this are unreasonable disciplinary measures, premature imposition of responsibility and exposure to domestic violence. The effects of emotional abuse on a child are shown through the child’s behaviour, emotional state or development.

Physical abuse

Physical abuse occurs where a child is deliberately injured or is injured due to the deliberate failure of the child’s carer to protect the child. Examples of physical abuse are shaking a child, use of excessive force or allowing a substantial risk of injury to a child.

Sexual abuse

Sexual abuse occurs where a child is used by someone for their own or someone else’s gratification or sexual arousal.

How do you recognise child abuse?

Child abuse is not always readily visible and your ability to recognise it can depend as much on your willingness to accept the possibility of its existence as on your knowledge of child abuse. There are usually three stages in recognising the abuse:

  • Considering the possibility of its existence, such as, where a child has a suspicious injury or appears distressed for no obvious reason.
  • Observing signs of abuse, for example, where a child makes a direct or indirect disclosure. A pattern of signs is the most reliable indicator of abuse.
  • Recording of observations and any other relevant information in order to establish the grounds for concern.

Before you act on your concerns you need to consider whether any alternative explanation might exist.

The Child and Family Agency, also known as Tusla, provides information on the types of child abuse on its website.

How do I report my concerns?

Anyone who suspects that a child is being abused, or is at risk of abuse, has a duty to report their suspicions to Tusla. You should report your concerns to the Tusla Children and Family Services local social work duty service in the area the child lives.

You can report your concerns in person, by writing or by phone. While you can report your concerns anonymously, Tusla does not normally reveal the names of people who report suspicions of child abuse unless they have permission to do so. If you are unsure about your concerns, you can discuss your suspicions with the social worker before deciding to make a formal report.

Tusla will consider your report and decide whether it needs following up. If it does, Tusla will look for information from other sources and will contact the child and the child’s parents in order to establish what is going on. It will then take whatever action is required to protect the child.

If you need to report your concerns outside normal office hours (weekends and at night) you should report your concerns to the Garda Síochána.

Under the Protections for Persons Reporting Child Abuse Act 1998, so long as you report what you believe to be true and you do it in good faith you cannot be sued for making a false or malicious report.

Are parents informed if concerns are reported?

If you are the parent of a child being assessed following the reporting of concerns, you should be told why and you should be afforded the opportunity to respond. Concerns about your child should be explained to you.

Information on a parent's rights is available on the Tusla website and in their leaflet on social work assessment of child protection and welfare concerns (pdf).

Duties of organisations

Every organisation that provides services to children should have somebody who is responsible for dealing with suspected or actual child abuse and to whom concerns can be reported. Information in relation to schools is available in our document on reporting child abuse at primary and post primary level.

You can find information on what organisations need to do on the Tusla website.

Adults who have experienced abuse in childhood

The HSE National Counselling Service for adults with a history of child abuse provides counselling and support to any adult who has experienced abuse in childhood. Since its establishment its primary clients have been adults who experienced abuse whilst in the care of the state as children. You can refer yourself by calling a freephone number. GPs and others can also make referrals. The service is available free of charge in all regions of the country.

Connect is a free telephone counselling and support service for adults who have experienced abuse, trauma or neglect in childhood. It is an additional service to the HSE’s National Counselling Service. To speak to a counsellor call:

  • Republic of Ireland: Freephone 1800 477 477
  • UK and Northern Ireland: Freephone 00800 477 477 77
  • Outside RoI and UK: 00353 1 865 7495 (International call rates apply)

If you wish to report the abuse to the Gardaí you should contact your local Garda station in person or by telephone.

Page edited: 18 February 2016