Abuse - Neglect

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.

General Characteristics To Look For

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.

How physical abuse might look
  • unexplained or inadequately explained injury, abrasions, bruises, burns, contusions, hematomas, infections, or other marks, swelling, or tenderness on the body
  • unexplained loss of patches of hair
  • human bite marks
  • cigarette or cigar burns
  • no apparent medical attention for an injury that would reasonably seem to require it
  • reluctance, avoidance, or distress at having to explain an injury
  • evidence of repeated injury or denial or minimization of injury
  • fearful of physical contact
  • frequent absences from school or absences without reasonable explanations.

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)].

How sexual abuse might look
  • in extreme cases, difficulty walking, sitting, or swallowing
  • pain or itching in the genital area
  • sophisticated sexual knowledge beyond the normal expectations for the child’s age
  • overt sexualized behaviours with other students
  • sexually explicit art work or bizarre sexual content in school work
  • seductive behaviour
  • substance abuse
  • unwillingness to change clothing for physical education class
  • running behaviour.
  • for youth:
    • prostitution
    • suicidal/self-harming behaviours or gestures
    • pregnancy
    • substance abuse

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.

How emotional abuse might look
  • presents a noticeable mood or personality alteration, e.g., once talkative, now quiet
  • an extreme lack of confidence or severe depression
  • a non-medical failure to thrive
  • reports frequent nightmares or other sleep disorders
  • sudden deterioration in school performance
  • withdrawal from peers
  • emotionally flat, withdrawn, or preoccupied
  • self-critical, does not participate because of fear of failure
  • overly compliant and passive or, alternatively, defiant and angry
  • reverts to more infantile behaviour or, alternatively, tries to act like an adult.

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.

How neglect might look
  • early arrival and late departure from school or programs
  • evidence of chronically poor hygiene
  • shows a lack of routine medical, vision, or dental care
  • inadequately clothed for the season
  • lunches are regularly inadequate or “forgotten”, child appears hungry
  • evidence of lack of sleep, chronic tiredness—falls asleep in class, appears pale, listless, and unkempt
  • gravitates to strangers, demands affection from others or, alternatively, does not seem to care for anyone in particular
  • evidence of a lack of appropriate supervision, given the age of the child
  • behind on several developmental milestones
  • takes care of their own needs and talks about having a number of adult responsibilities at home.

Impact On Student Success

  • Traumatized children are more likely to struggle in school, be absent from school, and engage in behaviours that lead to suspensions. The effect of multiple difficulties on children is not simply additive. There is, in fact, a multiplying effect, i.e., each additional problem cascades to create a substantial cumulative impact. However, this phenomenon also works in reverse to multiply the effects of positive interventions. For example, if a youth has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), has been abused, is substance abusing, and is usually unsuccessful at school, any initiative that gets that youth to attend school and participate can turn school failure into school success, and the positive effect on other areas of the student’s life can be significant.
  • The child’s life outside of school may be disorganized and inadequately supervised, making it difficult for the child to arrive on time, bring a lunch, etc.
  • For some children, school may be the most consistent, safe, and structured setting in their lives. Any initiative that increases the likelihood of abused children being suspended or expelled decreases the chance of a positive outcome for them at school, later in life, and perhaps eventually as parents themselves.
  • Teachers can and often do play a significant role in assisting children to feel a sense of success at school, thereby mitigating some of the damage caused by abuse and neglect in other areas of their lives.
  • For any situation where you have reasonable grounds to suspect a child has been abused, YOU MUST contact the CAS directly. Review the information on Duty to Report on page 95 in Chapter 8.
  • 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.

  • Modify workload and provide support to help students stay on top of their school work.
  • Show appreciation for students’ strengths and patience for their setbacks while parents/caregivers reorganize to provide safety for them. Teachers and other school staff may be the most consistent source of encouragement and support for students in transition.
  • Employ existing protocols.
  • Support mentoring programs.
  • Encourage all students to be involved in at least one school sport, club, or special project where they can develop a skill, connect with other students, and further develop relationships with solid role models.
  • Provide professional development opportunities for staff.
  • Work with the school team and community service providers who can support families and children. Encourage children to participate in school life both inside and outside the classroom.
  • Encourage regular attendance and ask for assistance with the problems that get in the way of children attending school.
  • Seek help and support when stress, environmental factors, or adult mental health issues are affecting the ability to parent
  • Remember that effective work on the complex social problem of abuse cannot be done without a collective resolve by all community professionals to engage in a collaborative approach. Collaborate, communicate, and work as a larger community team.
  • Wherever possible, involve non-offending parents in the solutions.
  • Advocate together for more support and community resources for women and children.
  • Make services fit the family, not the other way around.
  • Keep the focus on holding the offender accountable.
  • Increase communication about the roles, responsibilities, and limitations of each service’s mandate and resources.
  • CAS, police, and probation services must consult prior to conditions being sought in court orders that would affect any of the other agencies’ mandates or resources. All of the services involved must be able to meet the expectations in those orders or recognizances.
  • Engage in ongoing joint training initiatives.
  • Focus on “UPSTREAM” preventive initiatives.