What is child abuse?

“Child abuse” includes physical, emotional and sexual abuse and/or neglect. It also addresses a pattern of abuse and risks of harm. Some definitions include:

Physical abuse is any deliberate physical force or action, by a parent or caregiver, which results, or could result, in injury to a child. It can include bruising, cuts, punching, slapping, beating, shaking, burning, biting or throwing a child. Using belts, sticks or other objects to punish a child can cause serious harm and is also considered abuse.

Neglect occurs when a caregiver fails to provide basic needs such as adequate food, sleep, safety, education, clothing or medical treatment. It also includes leaving a child alone or failing to provide adequate supervision. 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.

Emotional abuse is a pattern of behaviour that attacks a child’s emotional development and sense of self-worth. It includes excessive, aggressive or unreasonable demands that place expectations on a child beyond his or her capacity. Emotional abuse includes constantly criticizing, teasing, belittling, insulting, rejecting, ignoring or isolating the child. It may also include exposure to domestic violence.

Sexual abuse occurs when a child is used for the sexual gratification of an adult or an older child. The child may cooperate out of fear or because they want to please the adult. Sexual abuse does not need to include physical contact between the perpetrator and the child. It may include activities such as sexual intercourse, exposing a child’s genitals, obscene phone calls, text messages, or digital interaction, fondling for sexual purposes, watching a child undress for sexual pleasure, encouraging/forcing a child to look at or perform in pornographic pictures or videos, and child sex trafficking.


While a single sign listed below doesn’t necessarily mean abuse or neglect is occurring, it can be an indication that something is wrong. If multiple signs are being exhibited, the child may be at risk of abuse or neglect. Please contact your local Children’s Aid Society if you have concerns about a child or youth.

Physical abuse is when a child is injured or harmed by his or her caregiver, or when the caregiver fails to do something to protect the child.

Subtle signs of physical abuse may include (but are not limited to):


Emotional abuse is when a caregiver treats a child in an extremely negative way that damages self-esteem and the concept of self.

Subtle signs of emotional abuse may include (but are not limited to):


Sexual abuse is any sexual exploitation of a child by a caregiver or someone else.

Subtle signs of sexual abuse may include (but are not limited to):


Neglect is a pattern where a child’s caregiver fails to provide basic needs such as food, sleep, safety, supervision, appropriate clothing or medical treatment.

Subtle signs of neglect may include (but are not limited to):