Exit Website

What is Child Abuse?

Child abuse is anything that intentionally endangers the development, security or survival of a child; or the act of emotionally, sexually or physically harming a child. It is more than just physical abuse, and it can manifest in several different ways.

  • Physical abuse: the intentional use of force on any part of a child’s body that results in injuries.

  • Sexual abuse: the improper exposure of a child to sexual contact, activity or behaviour.

  • Emotional abuse: anything that causes mental or emotional harm to a child

  • Neglect: neglect is any lack of care that causes harm to a child’s development or endangers the child in any way.

  • Exposure to domestic violence: also known as intimate partner violence, spousal violence, family violence or violence against women, exposure to domestic violence is considered as the following:

    • Violence between the child’s parents, regardless of whether they live together;
    • Violence between a parent and a non-parent (e.g., a girlfriend or boyfriend of the parent);
    •  Violence between people with whom the child lives, who are not necessarily his/her parents (e.g., the child’s grandparents, if they live with him/her).



It takes courage for a child to come forward  and share  their story. It also takes courage to listen, believe and report.

Recognizing and Reporting Child Abuse

  • How to Recognize Child Abuse

    The following are some common signs and symptoms of abuse. Remember, the presence of a single sign does not prove child abuse is occurring in a family, but a closer look at the situation may be warranted if these signs appear repeatedly or in combination. The quicker we recognize the signs, the faster we can seek help and support our children. For more information, please see this  resource.

    • Sudden changes in behaviour or performance
    • Drastic change of appearance
    •  Sexual knowledge or behaviour beyond their stage of development
    • Missing school/decline in school performance
    •  Not wanting to go home or running away
    •  Always hungry, sick or not suitably dressed for the conditions.
    •  Distressed around or excessively seeks time with a particular adult
    • Extreme behavioural reactions such as aggression, withdrawal or depression
    •  Unexplained physical symptoms/injuries that don’t match the child’s explanation
  • How to Recognize Child Abuse from a Distance

    Abuse can be difficult to detect on messaging apps, phone calls or video conferences, and extreme vigilance is needed when looking for
    signs of potential abuse or neglect. We must work together to continue to provide support to vulnerable children and their families, and remain
    alert to these potential indicators that children may be unsafe at home.

    •  Consistent inability to connect with child (without reason) may be cause for concern
    • If connected on social media, notice if they are sending/posting concerning messages or writing about negative experiences
    •  Pictures, images or presence of unexplained bruises or markings on the child
    • When talking to them on the phone or through video, watch for indicators of domestic violence, like aggression, shouting, or loud noises in the background
    •  Notice changes in mental health – anxiety, depression fear, suicidal idecation, withdrawn


    When checking in with parents, be aware of warning signs that may indicate child abuse and a need for support:

    • Shows little concern for their child
    •  Sees child as completely bad, worthless, or a burden; may frequently blame, belittle, or berate them
    •  Appears indifferent or uninterested toward the child
    •  Seems unconcerned or depressed
    •  Behaves unreasonably or in a bizarre manner
    •  Abusing drugs or alcohol
  • How to Respond to a Disclosure

    When a child or youth discloses something that is happening to them, it means they trust you and have identified you as a safe person. It is important to be prepared and know how to react when hearing their story, because your reaction and responses will have an impact on them. This is a basic guide on how to help a child or youth who has come to you.

    • Remain calm & be strong: do not let the child see or sense any negative emotions or reactions, as this may traumatize them.
    •  Be an active listener: thank the child for sharing, and document all information you know for the investigation, without seeking additional details from the child.
    •  Let the child lead: do not fill in any blanks or ask probing and leading questions. Let the child explain in their own words.
    •  Assure the child: ensure the child knows they are not at fault, and will be kept safe by trusted adults. Do not promise outcomes, such as “The offender is going to jail”.
    •  Practice self-care: receiving information regarding child abuse can be difficult. Recognize when you are in need of assistance yourself following a disclosure.
    •  Report to authorities: take the appropriate action as soon as possible.
  • How to Let a Child Lead

    When a child or youth has identified you as a safe person to talk to, it is important to be prepared for that conversation. Let the child lead when you are receiving a disclosure, as this avoids asking leading questions and ensures the child has the opportunity to explain what happened in their own words (a leading question is one where we are either suggesting the answer in the question itself, or attempting to guide the person to an answer we believe they are going to give).

    Concentrate on feelings and how to help the child or youth in the moment. If you must ask questions, ask open ones, such as, “Is there anything else you want to tell me?” As much as possible, document the exact words of the child’s disclosure to ensure the information gathered is from their own words.

  • Duty to Report

    Under the Child, Youth and Family Enhancement Act, anyone who has reasonable and probable grounds to believe a child is being sexually, physically, emotionally abused or neglected has a legal obligation to file a report. You may have witnessed something concerning, or maybe the child has given subtle hints or clues.

    The best scenario is you’re wrong, but the worst one is leaving the child to suffer in silence. By speaking out against child abuse, you can lend your voice to children and youth who haven’t yet found theirs. Here are six important things to remember when reporting child abuse:

    •  Each child display signs of abuse differently, and uniquely responds to trauma. Although there is no diagnostic tool, a drastic and prolonged change in a child’s typical pattern of behaviour may be cause for concern.
    •  Reports can be made anonymously through Crime Stoppers or the Child Abuse Hotline, if you’re worried you may be identified as a source. You may choose to report the abuse through a local police agency, but that will not guarantee anonymity.
    •  Online child exploitation must be reported, too. Adults are obligated to report the online exploitation of children and any material that depicts abuse towards children. This can be done anonymously and quickly through cybertip.ca.
    •  Provide as much detail as possible in regards to the child’s current whereabouts, relationship to you, safety, and story. This will help investigators do their jobs quickly and successfully.
    •  Trust in the expertise of a team of law enforcement agencies, medical professionals, specialized assessors and child advocates to confirm if abuse is happening. We will know the difference between a malicious report and a genuine report of child abuse. No one will be angry for a report that turns out to be untrue – in fact, we thank you for helping us protect children and youth in our community.
    •  The child and their non-offending caregivers will be supported. Child Advocacy Centres throughout the country exist solely to act in the best interests of a child, throughout the process of disclosure, investigation, prosecution and healing. If your report is investigated, rest assured the child is now safe, supported, believed and on the path towards recovery.

Ready to Make a Report?


Remember, child abuse is everyone’s business. If you need to make a report, here are some numbers to know:

  1. Local RCMP Complaint Line: 403-406-2200
  2.  Child Abuse Hotline: 1-800-387-5437 (KIDS)
  3.  Kids Help Phone: 1-800-668-6868 or Text CONNECT to 686868
  4. Crime Stoppers: 1-800-222-8477
  5. Online Exploitation: cybertip.ca

Myths and Facts about Child Abuse