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Child Abuse: What it is and Your Responsibilities 
by Mary M. Alward August 16, 2005

Do you know what constitutes child abuse and what your responsiblities are if you know a child is being abused in any way? Is corporal punishment child abuse? How does child abuse affect those people who suffer from it in adulthood? The answers to these questions and more can be found in this article.

The Child Protection Service provides services to protect children and young adults from significant harm that is caused by abuse or neglect within the family unit. It ensures that these minors receive services that will allow them to deal with the impact that these negative factors have on their lives, so they can heal. The agency focuses on the well being and development of those who have been abused and neglected and teaches them to live happy and productive lives.

Professionals who are in authority of children are legally responsible to report abuse and neglect to the Child Protection Service. This includes doctors, nurses, police and school teachers. Though not legally obligated to do so, any person who suspects a child or young adult is being abused or neglected should submit a report to the Child Protection Service in their area. The Protection worker will then investigate the situation and assess if the child or children are in harm’s way.

Definition of Child Abuse

Child abuse is any act or the failure to act that causes either physical or emotional harm to come to a child or a child’s health. Abuse occurs when someone who has a child under their care fails to provide nurturing for that child, injures the child in any way, or relates or allows anyone else to relate to a child in a sexual way.

Types of Child Abuse

  • Neglect

  • Sexual abuse

  • Physical abuse

  • Emotional abuse

  • Child exploitation


Neglect is when a person who has a child under their care fails to provide the child’s basic needs. There are three distinct types of neglect:

  • Emotional

  • Educational

  • Physical

Emotional Neglect

Emotional neglect is when a person who has a child under their care fails to provide love and emotional support.

  • Failure to provide psychological care when and if it is needed.

  • Failure to attend to a child’s needs, including the giving of love and affection.

  • Using drugs or alcohol abusively when a child is present or allowing a child to use drugs or alcohol.

If the authorities are called in on an emotional abuse issue, they consider family income, cultural heritage and standards of care.

Educational Neglect

This occurs when a parent or guardian fails to enroll a child of proper school age in school. It also includes not enrolling special needs children in a school that provides special education if it is necessary to the child’s best interests. Parents who allow excessive truancy are also guilty of educational neglect.

Physical Neglect

Physical neglect is when a parent, guardian or caregiver doesn’t provide a child under their care with physical needs such as:

  • Adequate housing, clothing and food.

  • Proper medical care and prompt emergency services.

  • Parental security and no abandonment of the child.

  • Proper supervision.

  • A home setting. Example: evicting an underage child from the family home.

  • A place that runaways can return to. Example: If an underage child runs away from home and expresses a desire to return, the parents are required to allow the child to do so.

Sexual Abuse

Sexual abuse is a sexual act of any type between a child and an adult. Sexual abuse occurs when:

  • A child is forced to touch an adult’s genital area.

  • A child is exposed to pornographic material of any type, the telling of dirty stories, being forced to watch any sexual act or the exposure of sexual organs to a child.

  • Incest, intercourse, oral sex, penetration or sodomy occurs.

  • A child’s privacy is violated, such as being watched while undressing or in the bath.

  • The fondling, kissing or touching of a child’s genitals, or other inappropriate touching.

  • A child is allowed to view pornography online with the parent’s or guardian’s knowledge.

  • Sexual exploitation occurs.

  • A child is forced to participate in the making of pornographic materials of any kind.

These acts are considered child sexual abuse when they are committed by parents, guardians, relatives, caregivers or someone in authority over the child, such as a teacher, scout leader or minister. If these acts are committed by a stranger, it constitutes child sexual assault.

Physical Abuse

Physical abuse occurs when an adult infects intentional injury upon a child even if it isn’t intended. Some examples of this type of child abuse include:

  • Kicking, pushing, shoving, shaking or throwing a child.

  • Choking, biting, pulling a child’s hair or pinching a child.

  • Beating, hitting, whipping, punching or slapping.

  • Burning with any hot object such as, boiling water or a cigarette.

  • Severe spanking or physical punishment. Physical abuse stems from aggression on the part of the adult. There is a difference between corporal punishment and physical abuse; though any type of corporal punishment is illegal in some places.

Emotional Abuse

Emotional abuse is the act by any person with a child in their care that interferes with the child’s mental health or well being, as well as their social development. Emotional abuse is also referred to as mental abuse, psychological abuse and/or verbal abuse. Emotional abuse ranges from verbal insult to extreme verbal abuse. Some examples include:

  • Threatening a child or frightening him in any way.

  • Yelling, screaming or swearing at a child.

  • Lack of hugging and other physical affection.

  • Rejection, withdrawal of attention or ignoring a child.

  • Lack of praise and assuring the child that he is loved.

  • Comparing a child to others in a negative way.

  • Telling a child that they are worthless, bad, no good, or were conceived accidentally.

  • Shaming and/or humiliating a child.

  • Calling the child derogatory names.

  • Continually blaming a child for acts he didn’t commit.

  • Using any extreme punishment such as tying the child to a chair or locking him in a closet.

  • Terrorizing a child.

  • Parental abduction.

  • Forcible confinement.

If a child suffers any type of abuse, he also suffers from emotional abuse. Children have no way of protecting themselves from adults, which puts them under a lot of stress.

Other types of emotional abuse includes bullying or teasing by siblings, peers, teachers, school bullies, athletic coaches, parents and caregivers, or any adult who has authority over a child.

Causes of Child Abuse

It’s hard to believe that anyone would intentionally hurt a child, but it happens far too often in today’s world. However, not all abuse is deliberate. There are factors that can cause a person to react in a negative way that causes him to harm a child.

  • Stress of all types.

  • Dealing with a special needs child.

  • Alcohol or drug abuse.

  • Having the responsibility of caring and providing for a child.

  • Loss of work.

  • Financial problems.

  • A history of child abuse.

  • Spousal abuse.

  • Conflict in a marriage or other intimate relationship.

There is no way to determine when these factors will cause someone to act out of character and commit child abuse. People who have been abused as children are prone to abusing children under their care.

In some circumstances, child abuse stems from isolation, benign neglect, ignorance or cultural heritage. Here are some forms of abuse that is passed down in a person’s cultural heritage:

  • Tradition beliefs that children are the property of their parents.

  • That girls must be genitally mutilated.

  • The belief that children need to be tough in order to face the hardships of adulthood.

  • That parents, especially fathers, have the right to treat children as they wish.

Results of Child Abuse

  • Low self-esteem and destructive behavior.

  • Self mutilation.

  • Impairment of social and psychological development.

  • Reclusive behavior.

  • Compulsive lying.

  • Spousal abuse.

  • Lack of trust.

  • Withdrawal of affection.

Severity of abuse can depend on how deeply the person was affected in childhood. The trauma of child abuse is always carried into adulthood emotionally. It is something that affects a person’s entire life.

Results of Emotional Abuse

  • Serious behavioral issues.

  • Cognitive, mental and emotional disorders.

Results of Physical Abuse

  • Having a difficult time establishing and maintaining intimate personal relationships.

  • Anxiety attacks, depression, frequent illness, problems at school or work.

  • Hypochondria

  • Alcohol or drug abuse.

  • Committing child abuse as an adult.

  • Difficulty with physical closeness, including touch, intimacy and trust.

Results of Sexual Abuse

  • A feeling of being unworthy.

  • Low self-esteem.

  • A tendency to prostitution.

  • Committing child abuse as an adult.

  • Personality disorders.

  • A distorted view of sex and sexuality.

  • Pedophilia.

  • Drug and alcohol abuse.

  • Tendency to want to be in control of all situations.

  • Tendency to remain in abusive relationships in adulthood.

  • Aggressive personality.

Signs of Child Abuse

People who have authority over children and young adults know the indicators of abuse and neglect. When any of these factors are present, the person should take appropriate measures immediately.

Behavioral Signs of Neglect

Behavioral signs of neglect are:

  • Showing little or no emotion when hurt

  • Fear or wariness of parents

  • Inappropriate age related sexual behaviors 

  • Alcohol or drug abuse at a very young age

  • Trying to be in control of every situation that involves them

Physical Signs of Neglect

  • Poor hygiene

  • Excessive bruises

  • Fractures

  • Burns

  • Bleeding from the vagina or anus

  • Sexually transmitted disease

  • When a child discloses that they have been abused. Young children do not lie about being hurt. If a child expresses that they have been hurt in some way, listen carefully and report the incident. The life you save, either physically or emotionally, could be a child’s.

Responding to Disclosure

Every situation of disclosure is different. First, assure the child that you believe them and that the abuse or neglect is not their fault. Then, talk to the child and gather facts and other pertinent information.

  • Make note of the disclosure and record your observations. Sign and date the entry.

  • Continue to observe the child’s behavior and any physical indicators of abuse or neglect. Sign and date each entry.

  • If you are a person of authority over the child, talk to colleagues and your supervisor. Have they noticed the same signs of abuse or neglect? Compare notes and discuss strategies.

  • Develop a plan. Brainstorm on what steps you should take to protect the child from harm.

  • Talk to child care agencies. Contact Child Protective Services, the regional Department of Human Resources, and any other agency that protects children from abuse and neglect.

  • Talk to the child often. Be his confidante and respect the child’s need for confidentiality and privacy. Reassure the child that what’s happening is through no fault of their own. This can’t be said often enough. Children always feel that abuse and neglect is caused by something they’ve done.


Every person has a moral responsibility to report child abuse or neglect. Mandated notifiers such as teachers, principals, doctors, nurses and police have a legal responsibility to report a child’s need of protection. The responsibilities of mandated notifiers are as follows:

  • If you don’t feel comfortable reporting abuse or neglect, it is the responsibility of your boss or supervisor. All cases of suspected abuse and neglect must be reported, by law.

  • Mandatory notification always takes precedence over codes of professional ethics. For instance, if your job mandates that client information is confidential, the responsibility to report abuse and neglect takes precedent over confidentiality.

Notifying Authorities

Contact your local Child Protection Service immediately, if you suspect a child is being abused or neglected. When you phone, ask to speak to someone in Intake. Once the Protection worker is on the phone, provide the following information:

  • The child’s name, age and address.

  • Why you suspect abuse or neglect.

  • The reason you are calling at this time.

  • Your assessment of any immediate danger to the child or young adult.

  • Description of behavior, disclosure or injury.

  • Your knowledge of important factors about the family.

  • Knowledge of cultural information. Is an interpreter needed?

  • Disability needs or services.

  • Any other information that you think is pertinent to the situation.

Even if you don’t have all of this information, it is imperative you notify the proper authorities. The Intake worker will help you through the process.

Stay Involved

When Child Protective Service visits the family, it may cause a crisis. Stay involved. Your responsibilities are as follow:

  • Being supportive of the victim. Let him know you are there is he wishes to talk.

  • Participating in conferences and meetings.

  • Continued monitoring of the victim to observe behavior or physical indications of abuse or neglect. (Make notes, date and sign.)

  • Providing written reports and observances to Child Protection workers and the courts.

  • Testifying in court, if necessary. Though no one likes to have to testify in court, it is mandatory for those in authority and a moral duty for citizens.

  • Helping the family to make the transition from abuse and neglect to a safe environment for the victim. This will take both time and patience.

Parental Support for Abuse Prevention

Child abuse prevention is the combined responsibility of the family, community and the State or Province. A range of services are available to families and children who need the support of agencies. Most governments have a support network in place to help families and children who are coping with child abuse and neglect. Be sure the victim and their family knows what services are available.


It is your responsibility, either mandated or moral, to report child abuse or neglect if the victim is a minor. Do your part to stop child abuse and neglect today. If you know a child who is a victim, report the abuse or neglect today.




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