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.

If you suspect child neglect or abuse, please call us at 416-924-4646 or toll free at 1-866-527-0833. We are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, every day of the year.

Signs of Abuse

Physical abuse is when a child or youth is harmed or injured by their caregiver or when their caregiver fails to protect them from harm. It may be one incident or occur over time.

Possible indicators of physical abuse may include, but are not limited to:

  • Injuries don’t fit explanation
  • Injuries to soft body parts
  • Injuries inconsistent with age and development
  • Child/youth cannot recall how injury occurred
  • Child/youth may cringe or flinch if touched unexpectedly
  • Highly aggressive or withdrawn

Emotional abuse is when a caregiver treats a child or youth in an extremely negative way that damages self-esteem and the concept of self. Shaming, blaming, humiliation, and belittling are examples.

Emotional harm has a different effect on a child or youth depending on their developmental stage and it does not affect each child or youth in a predictable manner. Its impact depends on a child’s internal resources and on available supports.

Possible indicators of emotional abuse may include but are not limited to:

  • Helplessness, avoidance
  • Hyper-vigilance to perceived threats and anger
  • Self-blame, shame, rage
  • Inhibition of emotional expression

Sexual abuse is any sexual exploitation of a child or youth by a caregiver or someone else. Sexual abuse may also be happening online, such as luring and grooming for possible future sexual abuse or engaging a child or youth in sexually explicit conversations.

Possible indicators of sexual abuse may include but are not limited to:

  • Frequent sore throats or urinary infections
  • Constant sadness
  • Re-enactment of abuse using dolls, drawings or friends
  • Clinging
  • Thumb-sucking
  • Sudden fear of the dark
  • Behaviour extremism (aggressiveness or withdrawal)
  • Recurrent nightmares or disturbed sleep patterns
  • Loss of appetite for no apparent reason, or excessive appetite
  • Bedwetting
  • Avoidance of undressing or wearing extra layers of clothes
  • Abrupt decline in school performance

Neglect is a pattern where a child or youth’s caregiver is not able or willing to meet the child’s needs.

Possible indicators of neglect may include but are not limited to:

  • Poor hygiene
  • Continually tired, lacking energy, unkempt
  • Frequent absence from school
  • Missing many basic clothing items for season
  • Regularly missing meals

None of these indicators on their own necessarily constitutes neglect, and they may present opportunities for community support and assistance. Poverty is not a cause of child maltreatment.

A child or youth can also be in need of protection due to exposure to intimate partner violence or adult conflict. Intimate partner violence is any behaviour within an intimate relationship that causes physical, psychological or sexual harm to those in the relationship.

Types of exposure to intimate partner violence that children may experience:

  • Witnessing
  • Hearing from another room
  • Observing the aftermath
  • Being aware of tension in the home, i.e. “walking on eggshells”

Child trafficking is the illegal trade involving the recruitment, transportation, or exploitation of children through force, coercion, or deception for purposes including forced labour or sexual exploitation.

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, others, or both.

Possible indicators of child 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/partner that they are reluctant for others to meet
  • Having a significant change in appearance (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 (‘the game,’ ‘bottom bitch’)
  • Having hotel keys in their possession/frequenting hotels
  • Withdrawing from friends and family, and other typical activities previously enjoyed (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 abuse and/or sexual abuse