What is Abuse

Recognizing the signs of abuse is not always easy. Abuse occurs when a child is hurt intentionally or when a parent or caregiver does not provide the protection a child needs. Physical and sexual abuse are often the most recognizable, but neglect and emotional abuse can be just as damaging. Neglect occurs when a child’s basic needs are not met. These basic needs include the need for food, shelter, sleep, clothing, medical attention, education and protection from harm. If a parent or care-giver attacks a child’s self-worth by constantly criticizing, teasing, bullying, rejecting or ignoring, the child may be suffering emotional abuse.

Types of Abuse


Physical abuse is any deliberate physical force that results in pain or injury to a child or creates a genuine risk of harm to the child. Physical abuse includes punching, slapping, shaking, burning, biting, throwing, pulling hair, throwing objects, or any other action that may cause bodily harm. Physical abuse also includes consistent and intentional neglect and failure to adequately supervise or protect a child. Physical abuse is different from what is considered reasonable discipline of a child.

Some indicators of physical abuse include frequent injuries ranging from bruises, black eyes or burns without adequate explanation, a fear of going home or seeing parents and obvious emotional disturbances.

If a child is injured, it does not mean the child has been abused. The injury may be a result of an accident, but it is important to be alert to the physical and behavioural indicators of child abuse.



Sexual Abuse occurs when a child is sexually exploited or molested by an adult, whether it is a parent, caregiver, relative or any other individual. Under no circumstances is a child capable of giving informed consent. A person may also be held accountable if they know of or suspect a child is being sexually abused, but fail to report the suspicion or protect the child.

Acts of sexual abuse include indecent exposure, exposing a child to pornography, fondling a child’s genitals, penetration, and exploitation through prostitution or producing pornographic materials.

Indicators of sexual abuse may include evidence of injury to the genital area, fear of being alone with adults of a certain sex, sexual comments, and knowledge of sexual relations beyond age appropriate levels.



Emotional abuse can be the most difficult type of abuse to identify and prove, but it is nonetheless damaging to the child. Emotional abuse occurs when a child is repeatedly treated in a way that negatively impacts their sense of self-worth and self-esteem, resulting in an impairment of a child’s growth, development and psychological functioning.  Emotional abuse includes any action that results in the absence of a nurturing environment for the child. Such acts include: yelling, ignoring, rejecting, demeaning, isolating or exposing the child to domestic violence.

A child suffering emotional abuse may exhibit severe anxiety, depression, withdrawal, aggressive behaviour, self-destructive behaviour or delayed development. The presence of one of the above indicators does not prove abuse, but it is important to be aware of the signs of emotional abuse.



Neglect occurs when a parent or caregiver fails to provide a child with basic needs such as adequate food, sleep, safety, supervision, clothing or medical treatment. If a child has a medical, mental, emotional or developmental condition that requires treatment and the caregiver does not provide the necessary help, this may also be considered neglect. If the caregiver is unable to provide the child with basic needs due to financial inability, it is not considered neglect, unless relief has been offered and refused.

In many cases the caregiver does not intend to be neglectful, but may not be aware of the appropriate care a child requires.

Signs of neglect may include obvious malnourishment, poor personal hygiene and a need for glasses, dental and other medical treatment.



A child has been abandoned when the child’s parent or caregiver has died or is absent and has left the child without adequate custody and care. Abandonment also occurs when a child is in residential care and the parent or caregiver refuses or is unable to resume custody and care of the child.


Caregiver Capacity

Caregiver capacity refers to the characteristics demonstrated by a parent or caregiver indicating their ability to adequately care for and protect a child. There may be no harm to a child or evidence that the child is in need of protection, however, the caregiver may demonstrate characteristics that indicate a child may be at risk of harm without intervention.

Caregiver characteristics indicating a child may be at risk include a history of abusing/neglecting a child, being unable to protect a child from harm, drug or alcohol abuse, mental health issues or limited care giving skills.


Domestic Violence

Domestic violence is violent and abusive behaviour that occurs within a child’s home. Domestic violence usually involves the violent abuse of a partner or spouse. A female partner is most commonly the victim of domestic violence, although male partners may also be victims. Domestic violence has a profound emotional impact on children and may raise the risk of child abuse and neglect.

Abused children do not always show obvious signs of abuse or neglect, but sometimes there are subtle indicators. Educate yourself and others of the signs of abuse and if you have any concerns about child safety and well-being, please contact your local Children’s Aid immediately.


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