What is child abuse?

Child abuse is harm that is physical, sexual or emotional inflicted on a child.

This usually means a parent or caregiver hurts a child, and includes when they do not protect a child from these forms of abuse. Neglect is also a form of abuse.

Are there different kinds of abuse?

According to the Department of Justice Canada, child abuse can be:

  • Physical
  • Sexual
  • Emotional
  • Neglect

Physical Abuse

When someone harms a child’s body, it is physical abuse. Some examples are slapping, kicking, hitting, shaking, or threatening to do any of these things.

Sexual Abuse

When an adult, teenager or older child touches a child or uses a child in a sexual way. Examples of sexual abuse include inappropriate touching of the child but also making a child touch or look at another person’s private parts (areas covered by a bathing suit or underwear), taking pictures or videos of a child doing these things or trying to get a child to do these things.

Emotional Abuse

This type of abuse includes bullying, scaring, or putting them down by saying mean things to them. So is threatening to do these things in person, by text or online. Destroying their toys or harming their pets is included in emotional abuse.


When a parent or caregiver doesn’t give a child the basic things they need to keep them safe and healthy, like food and clothing, does not take them to school, or doesn’t take them to the doctor when they need medical care.

What are the signs of child abuse?

Signs of child abuse and neglect are not always obvious, especially if it has been going on for a while. You can read more about the subtle signs of child abuse. These can include:

  • Wearing long sleeves/long pants or extra layers even in warm weather
  • Behaviour extremes—aggressiveness or withdrawal
  • Loss of appetite for no apparent reason or excessive appetite
  • Sudden decline in school performance
  • Frequent absence from school without explanation
  • Change in self-confidence suddenly

I think a child is being abused. What do I do?

If you suspect a child is being abused, you must report it.

If you are in danger or need help immediately, call 911. If you cannot speak to the 911 operator in English, ask for service in your language. They have access to interpreters who speak more than 140 languages.

If it is not an emergency and you need to talk to someone, the Kids Help Phone is free for youth under 19, and it is always free to call 1-800-668-6868 or text CONNECT to 686868. You do not have to tell them your name.

It is not your responsibility to determine whether abuse or neglect has occurred. Children’s Aid is responsible for investigating and assessing the need for protection or involvement. There are over 40 Children’s Aid Societies covering all of Ontario.

What happens after I report child abuse?

According to the Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies (OACAS), when you call, you will speak to a child welfare specialist trained to listen to your concerns and ask questions before deciding how urgent the situation is and what type of intervention is needed.This infographic shows the typical process once a report is received.

A child protection worker will respond immediately if a child is in imminent danger.

For More Information

Last updated: October 3, 2023 4001344