Recognizing abuse

It is important to realize that the presence of any one indicator does not mean that a child has been abused. In most instances, abused children will exhibit a number of behavioural and physical indicators.

It is not your responsibility to determine if a child is being abused; however, if you suspect or know a child is being abused it is your duty to report it. 


Most parents and caregivers don't intend to neglect their children. Instead neglect is usually the result of ignorance about parenting and an inability to plan ahead. When a caregiver fails to provide a child's basic needs - food, sleep, safety, supervision, appropriate clothing or medical treatment on a consistent basis, that's neglect.

Signs include but are not limited to:
  • pale, listless, unkempt appearance;
  • frequent absences from school;
  • inappropriate clothing for the weather;
  • involvement in delinquent acts and/or the abuse of alcohol or drugs;
  • frequently doesn't bring a lunch;
  • poor hygiene;
  • unattended physical problems or medical needs;
  • consistent lack of supervision.

Emotional Abuse

This type of abuse occurs when a caregiver treats a child in an extremely negative way that damages self esteem and the concept of ''self''. This type of behaviour might include constant yelling, demeaning remarks, rejection or isolation, or exposing a child to domestic violence.

Signs may include but are not limited to:
  • severe depression;
  • extreme withdrawal or aggressiveness;
  • overly compliant, too well-mannered, too neat or clean;
  • extreme attention seeking behaviour;
  • extreme inhibition in play;
  • bed wetting that has no medical cause;
  • frequent psychosomatic complaints such as headaches, nausea, abdominal pains;
  • failure to thrive or succeed. 

Physical Abuse

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.

Injuries may include: bruises, welts, cuts, fractures, burns or internal injuries. Physical abuse can be one or two isolated incidents or can occur repeatedly over a prolonged period of time. 

Indicators may include:
  • lack of explanation for injuries;
  • wariness of adults;
  • cringing/flinching when touched;
  • infants may display a vacant stare;
  • extreme aggression or withdrawal;
  • indiscriminate affection seeking;
  • extreme compliance/eagerness to please;
  • presence of various injuries in various stages of healing;
  • various injuries over a period of time;
  • injuries inconsistent with the child's age. 

Sexual Abuse

Sexual abuse is any sexual exploitation of a child by a caregiver or someone else and includes sexual touching, engaging in sexual activity with a child, exposing genitals to a child and incest.

Signs and indicators may include but are not limited to:
  • age-inappropriate play of a sexual nature with toys, self or others;
  • age-inappropriate sexually explicit drawing and/or descriptions;
  • bizarre, sophisticated or unusual sexual knowledge;
  • prostitution;
  • seductive behaviour;
  • unusual or excessive itching in the genital or anal area;
  • torn, stained or bloody underwear,
  • pregnancy;
  • injuries to the genital or anal areas, such as bruising, swelling or infection;
  • venereal disease.

Source: Ontario Association of Children's Aid Societies