Kinds of child abuse
Neglect is any lack of care that causes serious harm to a child's development or endangers the child in any way. Failure to meet the child's day‐to‐day basic physical needs includes not providing adequate nutrition, clothing, shelter, health care, appropriate supervision and protection from harm. Emotional neglect is not meeting the child's ongoing emotional needs for affection and a sense of belonging.
Emotional abuse is verbal attacks on a child's sense of self, repeated humiliation or rejection, exposure to violence, drugs, alcohol abuse, severe conflict, forced isolation, restraint or causing a child to be afraid much of the time. Emotional abuse is usually part of a pattern of how the child is being treated.
Physical abuse is the intentional use of force on any part of a child's body that results in injuries. It may be a single incident or a series or pattern of incidents.
Sexual abuse is the improper exposure of a child to sexual contact, activity or behaviour. It includes any sexual touching, intercourse, exploitation or exposure and can be perpetrated by anyone, including a parent or guardian, caregiver, extended family, friend, neighbour or stranger.
Knowing what defines child abuse is the first step to recognizing and reporting it. Early intervention is very important for reducing the impact of trauma.
The Alberta Adverse Childhood Experiences Survey (PDF, 753 KB)
Recognizing warning signs
It is especially important to notice changes in the patterns of a child's behaviour or performance. A single sign does not automatically indicate abuse.
The following are possible child abuse warning signs:
- Continually hungry, regularly has no lunch or breakfast, unkempt appearance or unsuitably dressed for the weather.
- Extremely withdrawn or is usually aggressive to other people.
- Unexplained bruises or injuries.
- Continually refuses to change for Physical Education.
- Shows knowledge of sexual matters beyond the child's age.
- Exhibits sexualized behaviour.
- Does not want to go home, runs away from home or arrives at school early and stays late.
- Always on the alert for possible danger.
- Continually defiant or disobedient.
- Engages in self-harm or lack of self worth (“I wish I was dead”).
- Interactions between an adult and child that are not appropriate for the context and age of the child.
- Statements by the child that could indicate possible abuse or harm.
Responding to child abuse
When faced with a disclosure, a person may feel panic, fear, helplessness, disbelief, anger, sadness or confusion. Their reaction is critical to the success of the child’s disclosure - their first step to getting help.
- Allow the child to tell you what happened in their own words ‐ do not ask leading questions.
- Remain calm and neutral.
- Do not over‐react, show shock, anger or any other reaction that would lead the child to believe the abuse or neglect was their fault.
- Do not probe for details.
- Support and acknowledge the child's feelings.
- Reassure the child and tell them that you believe them.
- Comfort the child by saying that it was the right decision to tell someone.
- Assure the child that they did the right thing by telling you and explain that you will need to tell someone who will help.
- Contact your local Child and Family Service Authority or Delegated First Nations Agency, or call the Child Abuse Hotline at 1‐800‐387‐KIDS (5437) or police/RCMP.
- As soon as you can, record what your heard/saw in the child’s words.
Reporting suspected abuse
If you suspect a child is being abused, it is your legal duty to report it under The Child, Youth and Family Enhancement Act.
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