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Children and youth show signs of maltreatment in different ways. There may be physical signs on their body, or in their emotional state or behaviour. Sometimes the signs are subtle. Know how to watch for signs that something may be wrong or that abuse or neglect is happening or at risk of happening.

You do not need to prove that abuse or neglect has occurred. You just need to let us know about your concerns. Your local Children’s Aid Society is available to take your call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Contact us at (905) 433-1551.

Signs of Abuse

Physical abuse is any harm to a child caused by the action, or lack of action, of the child’s caregiver. Injuries may or may not include physical evidence such as bruising, welts, cuts, fractures, burns or internal injuries. Physical abuse can occur as an isolated incident or continue over a period of time.

Signs of physical abuse include:
  • Various injuries over a period of time
  • Injuries inconsistent with the child’s age
  • Multiple injuries in various stages of healing
  • Child cannot recall how injuries occurred
  • Offers an inconsistent explanation
  • Wary of adults
  • May flinch if touched unexpectedly
  • Extremely aggressive
  • Extremely withdrawn
  • Indiscriminately seeks affection

Emotional abuse includes acts that result in the lack of a nurturing environment for a child. It occurs when the caregiver treats the child in such a negative way that the child’s concept of “self” is seriously impaired. Emotional abuse can be the most difficult to identify and prove.

Emotionally abusive behaviour by the caregiver can include:
  • constant yelling
  • demeaning remarks
  • rejecting, ignoring or isolating the child
  • terrorizing the child
Signs of emotional abuse can include:
  • Severe depression
  • Extreme withdrawal
  • Extreme aggression
  • Extreme attention seeking
  • Extreme inhibition
  • Bed wetting that is non-medical in origin
  • Frequent psychosomatic complaints (headaches, nausea, abdominal pains)
  • Failure to thrive

Sexual abuse is any sexual exploitation of a child by an older person. The Criminal Code of Canada identifies a number of types of sexual abuse, including:

  • Invitation to sexual touching
  • Sexual exploitation
  • Procuring sexual activity from a child
  • Caregiver permitting sexual activity
  • Exposing genitals to a child
  • Incest
  • Exposing to or engaging in pornography
Signs of sexual abuse include:
  • Age-inappropriate play with toys, self or others
  • Unusual or excessive itching in the genital or anal area
  • Injuries to the genital or anal areas, e.g. bruising, swelling or infection
  • Displaying explicit sexual acts
  • Torn, stained or bloody underwear
  • Age-inappropriate sexually explicit drawing or descriptions
  • Bizarre, sophisticated or unusual sexual knowledge
  • Prostitution
  • Seductive behaviour

Neglect often results from the lack of knowledge about appropriate care for children or an inability to plan appropriately for the child’s needs. Neglect can occur because of caregiver’s diminished capacity to care for a child.

Neglect includes a caregiver failing to provide:
  • adequate food and shelter
  • safety
  • medical or psychological treatment
  • supervision
  • adequate sleep
  • clothing
Signs of neglect include:
  • Poor hygiene
  • Unattended physical problems or medical needs
  • Lack of supervision
  • Frequent absence from school
  • Engaged in delinquent acts or alcohol/drug abuse
  • Frequently arriving at school without a lunch
  • Consistently inappropriate clothing for the weather
  • Consistently dirty clothes

Child sex trafficking is child abuse. It is inhumane and illegal. Child sex trafficking is the act of luring, coercing, forcing, or manipulating a child under the age of 18 into sexual activity either through online or in-person contact with or without the apparent consent of the youth in exchange for basic needs, drugs and/or alcohol, or financial gain on the part of the perpetrator. Youth involved in child sex trafficking may be coerced into trafficking themselves, coerced into trafficking others, or both.

Signs of involvement with child sex trafficking can include but are not limited to:
  • Missing from home or school for extended periods of time and/or on multiple occasions
  • Has new items without apparent means to pay for them
  • Having new older friends/boyfriend that they are reluctant for others to meet
  • Having a significant change in appearance – ex. hair, clothing
  • Having more than one cell phone/cell number is always changing
  • Having tattoos or branding symbols, particularly names
  • Using language involved in sex trafficking e.g. ‘the game,’ ‘bottom bitch’
  • Having hotel keys in their possession/frequenting hotels
  • Withdrawing from friends and family, and other typical activities previously enjoyed (e.g. sports, religious, spiritual)
  • Not having control of their own money or alternatively having excess amounts of cash
  • Increasing use of drug and/or alcohol and no apparent means to pay for them
  • Sexualized photos or videos on social media, or having multiple social media accounts
  • Indicators of physical and/or sexual abuse

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