WHAT IS CONSIDERED CHILD ABUSE?
In my early twenties I was a housemother in a children’s home in Scotland. It was a short-term home for children who had been put into our care by the local district children’s officer or the courts. The children were put there because they had been abused, or because the parents were unable to provide them with the necessities of live.
I had lived a sheltered life, and was unaware that children were living in such despair and poverty. As they do now, social workers, police officers and other child-care professionals then operated under set, shared guidelines.
Many years later child abuse is a daily occurrence and in many different countries as the figures show below, ~ people who witness these acts are reluctant to get involved.
Child abuse is an umbrella term that includes five types of maltreatment—
- Physical abuse,
- Sexual abuse,
- Emotional harm,
- Exposure to family violence.
Jessica Allen*, a registered social worker in British Columbia recently spoke on the condition of anonymity (her employer has a strict media policy), explains that child abuse is defined as behaviour or actions that cause some kind of physical, sexual or emotional harm—threatening a child’s safety, survival, development, self-esteem or ability to thrive. “What wouldn’t be considered child abuse or neglect is parenting in poverty—this is not, automatically, neglect, although it can be a contributing factor,” she says. “Neither is losing your temper once and yelling at your children an isolated incident.”
WHAT ABOUT SPANKING?
Although studies say today it can cause long-term developmental damage, under Canadian law, parents are allowed to spank their children, and it only applies to tots older than two and tweens younger than 12. (Section 43 of the Criminal Code says parents can use “reasonable” force to physically discipline kids—so you can’t use a belt, or swat a kid in the head, (for example.)
The following are a few update facts on child abuse:
- In October, Ontario’s Children’s Aid Societies raise awareness of Child Abuse Prevention Month.
- Last year, 165,673 referrals about possible abuse and neglect of children and youth were received by Children’s Aid.
- 47,925 families received ongoing protection services from a Children’s Aid Society after an investigation.
Every Ontarian has a moral and legal role to play in protecting children and supporting vulnerable families in our communities. By being alert to the signs of abuse and knowing who to call to help a child at risk of harm, everyone can help prevent child abuse and neglect.
Children’s Aid relies on the voice of the media and our community partners to alert communities to their role in supporting the welfare of children and families. It takes a community to keep children safe!
Media Contact For more information or media interviews, please contact Tanzeem Parkar, Communications Advisor at firstname.lastname@example.org or 416-987-9854.
- Abuse is a cycle: An abused child is more likely to end up in violent or abusive relationships when he or she grows up.
- 1 in 3 adult Canadians have suffered from at least one form of child abuse.
- 69% of reported physical abuse cases result from inappropriate discipline.
- 60% of reported physical abuse cases involve boys.
- 69% of reported sexual abuse cases involve girls.
IDENTIFYING DIFFERENT KINDS OF ABUSE
PHYSICAL ABUSE is deliberate physical force, including severe punishments that unintentionally injure a child: shaking, punching, kicking, biting, hitting, slapping, pushing, choking, grabbing and burning.
- Physical signs: cuts; bruises; fractures; bite marks; injuries in various stages of healing; injuries inconsistent with a child’s developmental stage.
- Behavioural signs: child can’t remember or explain injuries; aggressive and withdrawn; compliant; nervous around adults; cringes if touched; afraid to go home.
- Is ongoing, criticizing,
- Psychologically damaging behaviour including humiliation, name-calling, threatening, emotional neglect, rejecting, isolating, insulting and exposure to domestic violence.
- Physical signs: psychosomatic complaints like stomach ache, headache, nausea; bedwetting.
- Acting withdrawn
- Trouble Sleeping
- Overly compliant
- Developmental delays
- Speech disorders
SEXUAL ABUSE is any form of sexual conduct or exploitation directed at a child by someone who has power (older, stronger, etc.), including forced touching, exposing genitals, fondling, intercourse, oral sex, allowing a child to watch or participate in pornography, or sexual exploitation online.
- Physical signs: stained underwear; injuries or itching in genital/anal areas; pain urinating; genital discharge; UTIs; excessive masturbation; STDs.
- Behavioural signs: unusually advanced sexual knowledge; age-inappropriate or sexually explicit drawings, play with toys, or sexual acts; sleeping disorders; running away; poor relationships with peers.
- Neglect: is the inability or unwillingness to provide the basics: food, clothing, shelter, supervision, feeling of safety; medical attention.
- Physical signs: pale; malnourished or underweight; tired; poor hygiene; inappropriate clothing for weather; inappropriate school lunches.
- Behavioural signs: frequent absences; listlessness; hunger; begging for food; stealing; mentioning lack of supervision at home.
WHAT IF YOU WITNESS CHILD ABUSE?
You may see a child being berated by a parent in the mall; or a toddler slapped upside the head for not listening to Mom; or a father threatening his kid with the belt when his kid disobeyed him at the park. But, what is an onlooker’s responsibility? Should you intervene? Call 9-1-1? and how do you know whether you’ve witnessed a one-time lapse in judgment—that parent’s worst parenting moment—or a clear indication of a larger and ongoing problem?
“There’s a lot of stress on parents these days. Many reports of public abuse are of parents yelling, maybe even hitting their child, if, for example, a child is alone in a car and you cannot find a parent or the adult responsible for the child, call 9-1-1.
However if you locate the adult and she appears grateful that someone was concerned and she acknowledges her lack of planning or good judgement it may not need to be followed up with a report.
As a passer-by you can gently intervene by offering to help in a positive way. If you spot a parent shouting at her child in a supermarket parking lot, you might try diffusing the situation by saying, “It can be tough shopping with children. Need a hand getting your groceries in your trunk?”
However, if the parent does not think she is doing anything wrong or is annoyed that you are getting involved or you get the feeling that she does not care about her actions, following up with the local child-protection agency is a good idea. Get as much information as you can perhaps a licence plate number.
If you are concerned about interfering in another parent’s business, do not be. It is our job to pick up the phone and report what we have seen, then leave it to social workers to decide what happens next. It is tough to know when to intervene in these situations, these incidents should be reported so social workers so that they can follow up and assess if the incident is an indicator of a pattern of abuse or neglect, or simply a lack of parenting skills. The same goes for making a report about someone you know, like a neighbour or your child’s friend’s parents. But the same responsibility applies: Report what you’ve witnessed and let the professional’s take it from there.
It is not your job to be sure of ~ or to investigate the abuse, but it is your job to make that call.
Reporting is confidential, and you can ask to remain anonymous. Even though the process differs in every province, there are lots of parallels that callers can expect.
HOW TO REPORT CHILD ABUSE
British Columbia: 310-1234
Northwest Territories: 1-867-873-7276
New Brunswick: 1-800-992-2873
Newfoundland & Labrador: 1-855-729-2044
Nova Scotia: 1-877-424-1177
Prince Edward Island: 1-800-341-6868
Kids Help Phone: 1-800-668-6868
Boost Child Abuse Prevention and Intervention: boostforkids.org
Child Welfare League of Canada: cwlc.ca