Signs of Abuse and Neglect

It's important for all of us to increase our awareness about child abuse and neglect, to learn the signs and some of the underlying causes. Too many children lack the nurturing family and community supports essential for them to thrive and succeed. This has resulted in families coping with stressors and challenges affecting their ability to provide a safe, secure home for their children.

If you observe any of these signs in a child, please report your suspicions of abuse or neglect right now. Call us at 416-395-1500.


Child abuse
 occurs when a parent or caregiver mistreats a child, or when a parent or caregiver fails to protect a child in his or her care. It can be emotional, physical or sexual. Neglect is also a form of child abuse. This occurs when a parent or caregiver doesn’t take care of a child’s basic needs. Child abuse is against the law. The police will be consulted and may be involved in the investigation. 


Physical Abuse occurs when any deliberate use of physical force or action results or, could result in an injury to the child. It can include punching, slapping, beating, shaking, burning, biting or throwing a child. Any form of punishment that involves tying or locking up children or that results in bruising, welts or broken skin is against the law. Using belts, sticks or other objects to punish a child can cause serious harm and is also considered abuse. Physical discipline of babies is also against the law. Handling babies roughly—whether in anger or in playfulness—is extremely dangerous. Shaking babies can cause serious injury, including brain damage, blindness and even death. Physical abuse can be one or two isolated incidents or can occur over a prolonged period of time.

Injuries may include:

  • bruises
  • welts
  • cuts
  • fractures
  • burns
  • internal injuries

Physical indicators:

  • injuries that are not consistent with explanation
  • presence of several injuries that are in various stages of healing
  • presence of various injuries over a period of time
  • facial injuries in infants and preschool children
  • injuries inconsistent with the child’s age and developmental phase

Behavioural indicators:

  • cannot recall how injuries occurred or offers an inconsistent explanation
  • wary of adults
  • may cringe or flinch if touched unexpectedly 
  • infants may display a vacant stare 
  • extremely aggressive or extremely withdrawn 
  • indiscriminately seeks affection 
  • extremely compliant and/or eager to please


Neglect exists when a parent or caregiver is unable to meet a child’s basic needs or, has great difficulty anticipating them. For example, there can be a pattern of not providing food, sleep, safety, supervision, appropriate clothing or medical treatment to a child. Most caregivers do not intend to neglect their children. It usually results from ignorance about appropriate care for children or an ability to plan ahead.

Physical indicators:

  • poor hygiene
  • unattended physical problems or medical needs, eg dental work, glasses
  • consistent lack of supervision

Behavioural indicators:

  • pale, listless, unkempt
  • frequent absence from school 
  • inappropriate clothing for the weather, dirty clothes 
  • engaged in delinquent acts,
  • alcohol/drug abuse 
  • frequently forgets a lunch


Emotional Abuse exists when a child is treated consistently in a negative way that damages self-worth. Emotional abuse includes all acts of omission or commission which result in the absence of a nurturing environment for the child. It occurs when the caregiver continually treats the child in such a negative way that the child’s concept of “self” is seriously impaired. Emotionally abusive behaviour by the caregiver can include constant yelling; demeaning remarks; rejecting, ignoring or isolating the child; or terrorizing the child. This can include a pattern of criticizing, teasing, insulting, rejecting, ignoring or isolating the child. Emotional abuse can be the most difficult to identify and prove.

Physical indicators:

  • bed wetting that is non-medical in origin 
  • frequent psychosomatic complaints, headaches, nausea, abdominal pains 
  • child fails to thrive

Behavioural indicators:

  • severe depression 
  • extreme withdrawal or aggressiveness 
  • overly compliant, too well mannered, too neat or clean 
  • extreme attention seeking 
  • displays extreme inhibition in play


Sexual Abuse occurs when a child is sexually exploited by an older person where the child is being used for a sexual purpose. The Criminal Code of Canada identifies a number of types of sexual abuse, including:

  • sexual interference
  • an invitation to sexually touch
  • sexual exploitation of a young person
  • parent or guardian procuring sexual activity from a child
  • householder permitting sexual activity exposing genitals to a child; and incest

Physical indicators:

  • unusual or excessive itching in the genital or anal area
  • torn, stained or bloody underwear (may be observed if the child needs bathroom assistance)
  • pregnancy
  • injuries to the genital or anal areas, e.g. bruising, swelling or infection 
    venereal disease

Behavioural indicators:

  • age inappropriate play with toys, self or others displaying explicit sexual acts
  • age inappropriate sexually explicit drawing and/or descriptions
  • bizarre, sophisticated or unusual sexual knowledge
  • prostitution
  • seductive behaviours