• emotional abuse;
  • children's court;
  • judicial decision-making


This paper reports on a study of the extent to which child protection applications brought to the Melbourne Children's Court in Victoria, Australia, were based on emotional/psychological harm or neglect of a child and what factors were presented as evidence of harm or neglect. The study examined records of 208 court-ordered pre-trial conferences heard in the court between February and July 2002. What was found was that, although cases involving emotional abuse have increased in terms of child protection applications, they remain cases that are difficult to decide. While in 1998/9 emotional harm was a ground in 25.7% of child protection matters completed in the Family Division of the Children's Court of Victoria, legal decision-makers are reluctant to make a finding of child abuse in these cases because there is less accuracy in the determination of emotional harm and negligible legal criteria available to guide decision-making. Copyright © 2006 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.