Even at the best of times, parenting can be a challenge. When families face serious issues such as poverty, unemployment, inadequate housing, poor health, or relationship breakdowns, it is that much more difficult. Stress on families can lead to poor parenting behaviours. The best way to deal with child abuse and neglect is to prevent it in the first place. That is why it is so important for people to contact their local Children’s Aid Society (CAS) before their family problems get out of control. CAS can work with other professionals to support and help strengthen families through the rough times.
Children are in need of protection when they are intentionally harmed (abuse) or when a parent/caregiver fails to protect or provide the necessities of life for children in their care (neglect). Indicators of various forms of abuse are described here simply as a guide to assist in determining when to report a situation to the CAS.
The signs or indicators following the descriptions of each type of child maltreatment are common examples of what might be seen in children. It is important to note that the presence or absence of one or more of these indicators is not conclusive proof that a child has been abused or neglected; many of these signs and indicators are seen when children are under significant stress from other life events (e.g., being bullied, the death of a family member, separation from a loved one). Rather, clusters of these indicators must be assessed, together with an overall understanding of the life circumstances of the child, before a conclusion can be made about reporting to child protection staff.
Regardless of the form of abuse that is inflicted, the emotional impact on children can lead to significant challenges for them throughout their lives.
Physical abuse is any deliberate force or action (usually by a parent or caregiver) that results, or could result, in physical harm or injury to a child. It can include punching, slapping, beating, shaking, burning, biting, or throwing a child. Physical abuse can place a child in need of protection under the CFSA (Child and Family Services Act). Criminal Code of Canada charges related to physical abuse include assault, assault causing bodily harm, assault with a weapon, and aggravated assault.
Sexual abuse is any sexual exploitation of a child by an older person. Coercion (physical, psychological, or emotional) is intrinsic to sexual abuse. The sexual abuse of children can take many forms. Examples include sexual intercourse, fondling, sexual molestation, and sexual interference, and allowing a child to view or perform in pornographic pictures or videos or engage in prostitution. The Criminal Code of Canada identifies a number of types of sexual abuse that are grounds for determining that a child is in need of protection as defined in the CFSA [s. 37(2)].
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 and expectations beyond a child’s capacity. Emotionally abusive behaviour may include constant criticism or yelling, rejecting or demeaning remarks, ignoring, isolating, or terrorizing the child. This kind of abuse also includes the chronic failure to provide a child with a sense of love, and emotional support, guidance, and a sense of belonging.
Neglect is the failure to meet a child’s basic needs for food, clothing, shelter, sleep, medical attention, education, adequate adult supervision, and protection from harm. Most parents do not intend to neglect their children. It usually results from a lack of knowledge about appropriate care for children or an inability to organize and plan ahead. Professionals must be careful not to underestimate the difficulty and stress that living in poverty, inadequate housing, or ill health can pose for parents trying to raise children under these circumstances.
Once the report has been made, any further interviewing of the child must be avoided because it can contaminate the investigative process carried out by the CAS and police under the CFSA and Criminal Code.