Child protection

Like any other group of children/adolescents in Australia, child protection issues may be identified for children/adolescents of refugee-like background. Child maltreatment is broadly defined as any non-accidental behaviour by parents, caregivers, other adults or older adolescents that is outside the norms of conduct and entails a substantial risk of causing physical or emotional harm to a child or young person. Maltreatment may occur through acts of omission (such as neglect of care) or commission (such as inflicted harm). Subgroups of protective concerns include:[71]

  • Physical abuse – non-accidental use of physical force against a child that results in harm to the child.
  • Emotional maltreatment – Inappropriate verbal or symbolic acts toward a child and/or a pattern of failure over time to provide a child with adequate non-physical nurture and emotional availability.
  • Neglect – failure by a parent or caregiver to provide a child (where they are in a position to do so) with the conditions that are culturally accepted as being essential for their physical and emotional development and wellbeing.
  • Sexual abuse – the use of a child for sexual gratification by an adult or significantly older child/adolescent
  • Witnessing family violence – Child being present (hearing or seeing) while a parent or sibling is subjected to physical abuse, sexual abuse or psychological maltreatment, or is visually exposed to the damage caused to persons or property by a family member’s violent behaviour.

The National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children 2009-2020[72] emphasises that protecting children is everyone’s business’. Priorities include early recognition and action, support for carers, responding to sexual abuse, and joining up service delivery. Reporting requirements (mandated reporting (including categories of reporting) and failure to disclose offences) vary with jurisdiction, and it is important to be aware of responsibilities and requirements (and seek advice if needed). Forced underage marriage and procurement of female circumcision are both urgent child protection matters, with mandated reporting requirements. For asylum seeker families, current immigration policy and prolonged uncertainty can be substantial drivers for mental illness and parenting issues, and may also act as a disincentive for disclosure of family violence and/or child protection matters. These situations are complex, and require a high index of concern, and a supportive response with specialist input.

Produced by

in consultation with

                  Refugee Health Network of Australia

Endorsed by

Funded by

The Australian Refugee Health Practice Guide was produced with funds from the Australian Government Department of Health.


The information set out in the Australian Refugee Health Practice Guide (“the Guide”) is current at the date of first publication and is intended for use as a guide of a general nature only and may or may not be relevant to particular patients or circumstances. Nor is the Guide exhaustive of the subject matter. Persons implementing any recommendations contained in the Guide must exercise their own independent skill or judgement or seek appropriate professional advice relevant to their own particular circumstances when so doing. The statements or opinions that are expressed in the Guide reflect the views of the contributing authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors or Foundation House. Compliance with any recommendations cannot of itself guarantee discharge of the duty of care owed to patients and others coming into contact with the health professional and the premises from which the health professional operates.

Whilst the information is directed to health professionals possessing appropriate qualifications and skills in ascertaining and discharging their professional (including legal) duties, it is not to be regarded as clinical advice and, in particular, is no substitute for a full examination and consideration of medical history in reaching a diagnosis and treatment based on accepted clinical practices.

Accordingly, Foundation House and its employees and agents shall have no liability (including without limitation liability by reason of negligence) to any users of the information contained in the Guide for any loss or damage (consequential or otherwise), cost or expense incurred or arising by reason of any person using or relying on the information contained in the Guide and whether caused by reason of any error, negligent act, omission or misrepresentation in the information. Although every effort has been made to ensure that drug doses and other information are presented accurately in the Guide, the ultimate responsibility rests with the prescribing clinician. For detailed prescribing information or instructions on the use of any product described herein, please consult the prescribing information issued by the manufacturer.