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Smacking, Neglect and Abuse

Smacking, Neglect and Abuse

This page has information about the care and protection of children and young people in New Zealand.  In particular, you can find out about what can happen when it is reported that a child or young person may not be safe.

In New Zealand legally, a child is someone aged up to 14 years, and a young person is someone aged between 14 and 17 years.
If you need help understanding and working through this information, please contact us.
If you are experiencing violence or bullying at home, go to our domestic violence page.

Can my parents smack me?

It is illegal for a parent to smack or use force against their child to discipline them or to correct their behaviour.  Repeatedly using force against a child for discipline or correction could amount to domestic violence.

There are limited circumstances where a parent may use reasonable force against their child.

Are there times where my parent may hit me?

The limited circumstances where a parent or guardian may use reasonable force against you include:

  • Preventing or minimising harm to you or another person;
  • Preventing you from doing something that amounts to a criminal offence;
  • Preventing you from offensive or disruptive behaviour;
  • Doing the normal daily tasks relating to good care and parenting.

What can I do if I feel unsafe at home?

If you are unsafe or feel unsafe, you should call the Police on 111 and/or a trusted adult if you have another adult that you feel safe talking to. You can also call MCOT on 0508 FAMILY (326459), but they may take you to a foster home or another home. You will have little control over where you will live once MCOT gets involved, but they must provide you with a safe environment.

You can also call helplines like YouthLine on 0800 37 66 33 or What’s Up on 0800 WHATSUP (0800 9428787).

Will my parents get in trouble if I call the police about domestic violence?

Police have the option to charge or not charge your parents or guardians for using force against you (aka hurting you physically) to correct or discipline you if the offence is so minor that there isn’t good reason for charging them.  However, the starting point in terms of “smacking” is that parents are not allowed to use force to correct their children.

Repeatedly using force against you or another child for discipline or correction could amount to domestic violence. If the police charge them, they may be convicted of the crime if they are found guilty. You may also be placed under the care of MCOT to make sure you are safe. However, your safety is always the most important! You should call the police if you’re unsafe!

I’m being abused at home, will the government provide me with care and protection?

The government will provide care and support for you as a child in some situations. Some of the reasons are if:

  • You are suffering from physical harm e.g. being hit by parents;
  • You are suffering from emotional harm e.g. being told constantly that you are worthless;
  • You are suffering from sexual harm e.g. incest or unwanted touching by a family member;
  • You are suffering from serious deprivation e.g. not being provided with food, clothing or shelter on an ongoing and serious basis;
  • A child between 10 and 14 years has committed serious offending, and the nature of this offending gives serious concern for the child’s wellbeing;
  • The parents are unwilling/ unable to care for a child or young person.

What are some signs of child abuse?

Some of the signs of abuse and neglect are:

  • If a child is informing you that they are being abused or neglected;
  • A child exhibits seriously inappropriate behaviour;
  • There is a pattern of injuries that the child is not willing to talk about;
  • The child appears distressed or depressed without obvious reasons;
  • The child seems afraid of their parents or caregivers;
  • The child draws dark drawings or has dark thoughts.

If you have concerns about the well-being of a child, you should take action.

What is the Ministry for Children, Oranga Tamariki (MCOT)?

The Ministry for Children – Oranga Tamariki (MCOT) is the government ministry that has replaced Child, Youth and Family Services (CYFs). It is responsible for working with families where a child may need care and protection by someone other than their parents or guardians. The police and the Courts also play important roles.

Can MCOT remove me from my home?

The Minstry for Children, Oranga Tamariki (MCOT) or the police can remove you (the young person) from your home if they think you’re in danger or in an unsafe environment.  In most situations, they need a warrant from the Court to do this.  However, if they feel that you are at risk of injury or death, they can come into a home and remove you without a warrant.

What should I do if I think a child or young person is abused or neglected at home?

The law says that any person who believes that any child or young person has been, or is likely to be, harmed, ill-treated, abused, neglected, or deprived may report the matter to a social worker or the police.  This report is known as a ‘notification’. If you think you or someone else is being harmed, you can call MCOT on 0508 FAMILY (326 459).

When do I have to report child abuse?

Parents and adults 18 years and over, who are aware of child abuse occurring in a household they live in, must take reasonable steps to protect that child from death, serious harm or sexual assault. If the parents or adults fail to report the abuse, they could face serious criminal charges.

The law also applies to staff members of hospitals, institutions or residences where a child is living. Further, guardians have a responsibility to protect children in their care from injury.

The maximum penalty for not taking reasonable steps to protect a child is 10 years in prison.

What happens if I report an abuse?

You won’t get in trouble for reporting abuse unless you did it in bad faith e.g. to get somebody in trouble even though you don’t think they are abusing or neglecting a child. When MCOT gets a notification, they have to investigate it.  The person who made the report will be told the result of the investigation, and what action MCOT will be taking.

What sort of investigation is done after I report child abuse?

After a notification about a child or young person is made, a social worker or police officer must gather information and investigate the situation. Usually, it will be an MCOT social worker that does this. As part of the investigation, the social worker may talk to people at the child or young person’s school, other family members, the doctor, and the child or young person themselves. The social worker can also apply to the Family Court, asking that the child receives a medical examination.

Does MCOT need to tell my parents if they talk to me?

If MCOT wants to interview you as the child or young person, they can do this without telling your parents. As a child or young person being interviewed by MCOT, you can ask for a trusted adult to be with you.

What happens after my MCOT investigation?

After the investigation, if the social worker doesn’t have good reasons to believe that you are in need of care and protection, then the case will be closed.

However, if the social worker does have good reasons to believe you are not in a safe environment, then a number of things can happen, depending on what the social worker thinks is needed to make sure your care and protection needs are met. They may move you in with another family member permanently, or to a home where they think you will be safe at, which can include a foster home.

When can the Court grant a warrant to allow MCOT to remove me?

A Court will grant a warrant to remove you if it is satisfied that you are suffering or likely to suffer from abuse or neglect, or if you are in a state where you are likely to harm yourself, other people, or damage property.

What happens if I go into MCOT care?

Once you are removed from your home, you go into the care of MCOT.  An MCOT social worker may then place you into the care of another adult, such as another parent, a previous caregiver, or a whanau member where possible.  If it is considered that there is no appropriate familiar person to look after you, you will be placed in foster care or an MCOT residence.

How many days can I be held in an MCOT residence for?

If you are not released from MCOT residence within five days, MCOT must go before the Family Court. The Courts will decide whether you should be released, or whether you should be cared for by a particular person.  Your parents or guardians can apply for access to you or their other children during this time, or for you and/or your siblings to be released from MCOT care.

Who do I contact to get some help if I’m abused?

If something bad happens to you and nobody seems willing to help you then you can contact the following people:

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