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. HPCAS is available to take your call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Contact us at 519-271-5290 or 1-800-668-5094.

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.

Subtle signs of physical abuse may include, but are not limited to:
  • Child wears long sleeves/long pants even in warm weather
  • Excessive crying
  • Child seems anxious when other children cry
  • Avoidance of physical contact with others
  • Recurrent nightmares or disturbed sleep patterns
  • Behaviour extremes—aggressiveness or withdrawal
  • Poor self-concept
  • Whispered speech
  • Loss of appetite for no apparent reason, or excessive appetite
  • Child is wary of adults
  • Re-enactment of abuse using dolls, drawings or friends
  • Clinging
  • Delinquent behaviour
  • Abrupt decline in school performance

Emotional abuse is when a caregiver treats a child in an extremely negative way that damages self-esteem and the concept of self.

Subtle signs of emotional abuse may include but are not limited to:
  • Sudden change in self-confidence
  • Headaches or stomach aches with no medical cause
  • Destructive behaviour
  • Abnormal fears, increased nightmares
  • Failure to gain weight (especially in infants)
  • Desperately affectionate behaviour
  • Speech disorders (stuttering, stammering)
  • Habit disorders (biting, rocking, head-banging)
  • Argumentative or consistent temper tantrums
  • Bullying tactics
  • Being easily frustrated
  • Behaviour extremes—disobedient or overly compliant

Sexual abuse is any sexual exploitation of a child by a caregiver or someone else.

Subtle signs 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’s caregiver fails to provide basic needs such as food, sleep, safety, supervision, appropriate clothing or medical treatment.

Subtle signs of neglect may include but are not limited to:
  • Missing key articles of clothing
  • Over- or under-dressed for weather conditions
  • Height and weight significantly below age level
  • Consistent school absenteeism
  • Persistent hunger
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Low self-esteem
  • Body odour
  • Child assumes adult responsibilities
  • Always being dirty and severely unkempt
  • Sleepiness/always tired
  • Child steals food/lunch money from others

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