Child abuse is anything that intentionally endangers the development, security or survival of a child; or the act of emotionally, sexually or physically harming a child. It is more than just physical abuse, and it can manifest in several different ways.
Physical abuse: the intentional use of force on any part of a child’s body that results in injuries.
Sexual abuse: the improper exposure of a child to sexual contact, activity or behaviour.
Emotional abuse: anything that causes mental or emotional harm to a child
Neglect: neglect is any lack of care that causes harm to a child’s development or endangers the child in any way.
Exposure to domestic violence: also known as intimate partner violence, spousal violence, family violence or violence against women, exposure to domestic violence is considered as the following:
The following are some common signs and symptoms of abuse. Remember, the presence of a single sign does not prove child abuse is occurring in a family, but a closer look at the situation may be warranted if these signs appear repeatedly or in combination. The quicker we recognize the signs, the faster we can seek help and support our children. For more information, please see this resource.
Abuse can be difficult to detect on messaging apps, phone calls or video conferences, and extreme vigilance is needed when looking for
signs of potential abuse or neglect. We must work together to continue to provide support to vulnerable children and their families, and remain
alert to these potential indicators that children may be unsafe at home.
When checking in with parents, be aware of warning signs that may indicate child abuse and a need for support:
When a child or youth discloses something that is happening to them, it means they trust you and have identified you as a safe person. It is important to be prepared and know how to react when hearing their story, because your reaction and responses will have an impact on them. This is a basic guide on how to help a child or youth who has come to you.
When a child or youth has identified you as a safe person to talk to, it is important to be prepared for that conversation. Let the child lead when you are receiving a disclosure, as this avoids asking leading questions and ensures the child has the opportunity to explain what happened in their own words (a leading question is one where we are either suggesting the answer in the question itself, or attempting to guide the person to an answer we believe they are going to give).
Concentrate on feelings and how to help the child or youth in the moment. If you must ask questions, ask open ones, such as, “Is there anything else you want to tell me?” As much as possible, document the exact words of the child’s disclosure to ensure the information gathered is from their own words.
Under the Child, Youth and Family Enhancement Act, anyone who has reasonable and probable grounds to believe a child is being sexually, physically, emotionally abused or neglected has a legal obligation to file a report. You may have witnessed something concerning, or maybe the child has given subtle hints or clues.
The best scenario is you’re wrong, but the worst one is leaving the child to suffer in silence. By speaking out against child abuse, you can lend your voice to children and youth who haven’t yet found theirs. Here are six important things to remember when reporting child abuse:
Remember, child abuse is everyone’s business. If you need to make a report, here are some numbers to know:
Fact: Parents who use excessive punishment are not in control. Physical punishment does not teach children how to make good decisions, how to determine what is right and wrong, or how to control their own behavior. Instead, physical punishment makes children submissive, fearful and/or aggressive. It also teaches them that hitting is a way to solve problems with other people.
Fact: Most parents love their children and do not mean to hurt them. They discipline their children because they want them to behave well. Many parents feel frustrated with their children’s behavior and do not know any other way to discipline them, but are open to learning effective parenting strategies to reduce the risk of physical abuse in the future.
Fact: Even accidental injuries of a child are considered physical abuse if the act that injured the child was done intentionally as a form of punishment.
Fact: All parents get angry at their children sometimes. It is okay to be angry, but it is not okay to hurt your children in anger. Angry feelings cannot get you into trouble but violent behavior can. It is important for parents to learn how to express and control their anger so that their children learn to do the same.
Fact: Incest plays no favorites. Incest crosses all socio-economic, race, and class barriers. It happens in both rural and urban centers.
Fact: While children do make up stories, they seldom lie about sexual abuse. Also, children who have not been abused do not usually have explicit knowledge of intimate sexual behavior. Statistics indicate that most reports of child sexual abuse are true.
Fact: Most abuse is committed by someone the victim/survivor knows and trusts.
Fact: Offenders come from all walks of life and look like ordinary people. They can be fathers, grandfathers, uncles, brothers, stepfathers, mothers, grandmothers, aunts, sisters, stepmothers, babysitters, coaches, teachers, doctors, social workers, religious leaders, neighbors, etc. . . .
Fact: There is no evidence that links socioeconomic status, race, or educational levels to abuse or neglect. Child abuse occurs within every neighborhood and school community across the country.
Fact: Child abusers cannot be easily distinguished from others. They usually are not adults with mental illness or mental retardation. In fact, many offenders are up-standing community citizens.
Fact: The child is always the victim. The responsibility for the abuse lies solely with the adult. In the case of child sexual abuse, many offenders try to shift the blame for their actions by accusing the child of being seductive or promiscuous.