Child abuse is any mistreatment or neglect of a child that results in non-accidental harm or injury and which cannot be reasonably explained. Child abuse normally develops gradually over time and will generally be repeated unless it is intercepted. The forms of abuse become more serious as time goes on. Within this context, a child refers to anyone who is a minor. Depending on province this would be anyone under the age of 18 or 19.
Child abuse may include:
What to do…
If you are a child or teen and you think you are being abused?
- If you are a child or teen experiencing abuse – talk to a trusted adult. This could be a parent, teacher, coach, friend’s parent, youth leader, aunt or uncle. What matters most is that the person feels safe to talk to.
- If you are too scared to tell someone or you don’t know who to talk to, you can connect with someone @ kidshelpphone either by phone, online chat, or text.
- You do not need to go through this alone. As scary as it might be to reach out for help, the violence you are experiencing needs to end. You deserve to live your life free from the fear of harm.
- Sometimes it easier to tell someone together with a friend. If you have a good friend who knows what you are going through, you could ask them to come with you to talk to an adult.
If you know about or suspect a child is experiencing abuse?
If abuse is suspected in any situation involving children (including teenagers to the age of majority) it is required by law that the information be reported to police or child welfare authorities. Whether the abuse has been disclosed or suspected, do not try to investigate the matter yourself. Disclosures always need to be reported.
When possible, it is best practice to include the family in the reporting process, but only when the person suspected is NOT a parent or other family member. For example, say a child discloses experiencing a form of abuse at a friend’s house. If you are able, ask the child in a private conversation if they have told their parents. If the child has not disclosed to their parent, talk to the child about your responsibility to talk to their parent about the disclosure. When you talk to the parent, volunteer to support them as they report to child welfare or the police. Let the parent know you have a legal requirement to ensure their child’s disclosure is reported to the correct authorities who will follow up as required.
If, however, the child indicates they told a parent and they were not believed, it is important to report the disclosure to child welfare or the police. The social worker or police officer will ask you if you have informed the parent or guardian of the child. Let them know you have not but would like to talk to the parent as it is important to work to build open communication whenever possible. The best time to talk to the parent should be determined in discussion with the child welfare worker. Regardless, if you received a disclosure or otherwise suspect abuse, you must call the child protection agency as well even if a parent states they have made the call or says they will.
When the suspected offender is a parent or other family member
In these cases it is essential that you do not talk to the family about the matter or include the family in the reporting process. Do not ask the child if they have talked to others about this or call the parent. Report this allegation directly to the child welfare worker or police.
If someone discloses abuse, they may also ask you not tell anyone. While it is completely normal for a child or family member to fear what will happen if they disclose abuse, you are legally required to report the incident. It is best to explain to the child or youth who disclosed that you understand that they are scared and worried. Let them know you are concerned for their well-being and safety and are required by law to report it. It only exacerbates the pain and potential trauma of the experience to promise that you won’t tell anyone and then report without them knowing.
If you have questions about what to report or the best way to work through a situation, a child welfare social worker is an available resource to speak to about situations of concern. It is possible to remain anonymous if necessary.
Reports should be made to your local child protection agency. You will be asked a series of questions. You may not have all the answers but just respond based on what you know
You must not discuss the suspected incident with the alleged offender before or after making a report.
The child welfare agency will then assess the report and notify the legal guardians of the child of the report. The agency will typically follow up on the report with an investigation, and depending on the nature of the report, notify the police, who may also be required to investigate. In all scenarios the safety and wellbeing of the child is the highest priority and the child welfare agency will seek to provide the adequate supports and intervention necessary to ensure that the child is protected from further abuse.
When child abuse occurs in a family system, it is traumatizing and distressing for the whole family, especially when the offender is a family member or relative. The aftermath is devastating and stressful, which is why it is important for families to have support whilst moving through this type of family crisis.
- Reporting of Child Protection and Child Abuse: Manitoba handbook
- Child Abuse is Wrong: What can I do?
- Children’s Advocate Offices Across Canada
- The B.C. Handbook for Action on Child Abuse and Neglect
- NCTSN: Coping with the Shock of Intrafamilial Sexual Abuse: A guide for parents and caregivers
- Close to Home: Dealing with child abuse