Recognize Child Abuse

Taken with thanks from the RCMP Website

What is Child Abuse?

Child abuse refers to any form of physical, psychological, social, emotional or sexual maltreatment of a child whereby the survival, safety, self-esteem, growth and development of the child are endangered. There are four main types of child abuse: neglect, emotional, physical and sexual.

A child may display signs indicated in the following text, however this is not conclusive evidence that abuse is taking place. It is important to be aware of the indicators, behavioural changes and the presence of these signs in clusters and not just the presence of one indicator. This list is not exhaustive.

Types of Child Abuse

Neglect: Failure to give due attention or care to a child resulting in serious emotional or physical harm.

Behavioural Indicators

  • pale, listless, unkept
  • frequent absence from school
  • inappropriate clothing for the weather
  • dirty clothes
  • inappropriate acts or delinquent behaviour
  • abuse of alcohol/drugs
  • begging /stealing food
  • frequently tired
  • seeks inappropriate affection
  • mature for their age
  • reports their is no caretaker

Physical Indicators

  • poor hygiene
  • unattended physical or medical needs
  • consistent lack of supervision
  • underweight, poor growth, failure to thrive
  • constant hunger
  • under nourished

Emotional Abuse: Verbal attacks or demeaning actions that impact on a childs self esteem and self worth.

Behavioural Indicators

  • depression
  • withdrawal or aggressive behaviour
  • overly compliant
  • too neat and clean
  • habit disorders (sucking, biting, rocking, etc.)
  • learning disorders
  • sleep disorders
  • unusual fearfulness
  • obsessive compulsive behaviour
  • phobias
  • extreme behaviour
  • suicide attempts
  • developmental delays

Physical Indicators

  • bed-wetting
  • headaches
  • nausea
  • speech disorders
  • lags in physical development
  • disruptive behaviour

Physical Abuse: the intentional use of force against a child resulting in injury or causing bodily harm.

Behavioural Indicators

  • inconsistent explanation for injuries or cannot remember
  • wary of adults
  • flinch if touched unexpectedly
  • extremely aggressive or extremely withdrawn
  • feels deserving of punishment
  • apprehensive when others cry
  • frightened of parents
  • afraid to go home

Physical Indicators

  • injuries not consistent with explanation
  • numerous injuries in varying stages of recovery or healing
  • presence of injuries over an extended period of time
  • facial injuries
  • injuries inconsistent with the child’s age and developmental phase

Sexual Abuse: any form of sexual conduct (touching, exploitation, intercourse) directed at a child.

Behavioural Indicators

  • sexual knowledge or play inappropriate to age
  • sophisticated or unusual sexual knowledge
  • prostitution
  • poor peer relationships
  • delinquent or runaway
  • reports sexual assault by caretaker
  • change in performance in school
  • sleeping disorders
  • ag gressive behaviour
  • self-abusive behaviours
  • self mutilation

Physical Indicators

  • unusual or excessive itching in the genital or anal area
  • stained or bloody underwear
  • pregnancy
  • injuries to the vaginal or anal areas
  • venereal disease
  • difficult in walking or sitting
  • pain when urinating
  • vaginal/penile discharge
  • excessive masturbation
  • urinary tract infections

Facts about child abuse

  1. Child abuse usually reflects patterns of behaviour rather than an isolated incident.
  2. The vast majority of child abusers are parents, relatives, or trusted adults, not strangers.
  3. Children rarely lie about abuse. They are more likely to deny abuse and take back truthful statements than to make false reports.
  4. Child abuse knows no class boundaries.

What should you do if a child discloses abuse?

Believe in the child

  • lack of belief will discourage the abused from disclosing

Listen openly and calmly

  • give the child your full attention
  • put the child first and put your feelings (anger, frustration or pain) aside

Reassure the child

  • be supportive
  • tell the child what has happened is not his/her fault
  • never make promises

Write down the facts

  • record all the facts the child has disclosed to you
  • avoid interpreting what the child has said, use the child’s exact words
  • contact your local police or your local child welfare agency


Everyone has a duty to report child abuse. As soon as a child discloses abuse to you, contact your local police or your local child welfare agency.

Even if a child has not disclosed abuse to you but you have reasonable grounds to suspect abuse is taking place, report it immediately. Delaying to report could place a child at further risk. To make a report does not require absolute certainty. Anyone who has a reasonable suspicion that a child is or may be in need of protection is required by law to report the information. People who report suspected child abuse or neglect cannot be sued unless they did so maliciously or without reasonable grounds.


  1. Support prevention programs
  2. Attend parenting skills workshops or programs
  3. Act when you see any mistreatment of a child
  4. Read children stories that deal with issue ie. “The Secret of the Silver Horse” (published by the authority of the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada) or “Eagle Child” (by Sandra Montour) books
  5. Talk to your children about their bodies. Explain to them what is appropriate and inappropriate touching and how to get help if they need it.


Your local police detachment
Child welfare agencies
Kid’s Help Line/Jeunesse, J’écoute (1-800-668-6868)

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