This Open Education Resource (OER) about child abuse focuses largely on several case studies about children and their caregivers. Interactive questions are included throughout the text to make the resource engaging. Utilizing case studies provides an opportunity to apply the theories to the cases to help understand and determine the risk of abuse and what to do to help a family when abuse is present. Case studies are valuable in practice and help us understand how to work effectively as professionals in the diverse and dynamic landscape of social services.
Information about the Child Youth and Family Services Act, in particular Sec. 125 regarding your legal responsibilities to identify and report suspected child abuse are presented. The resource focuses on the different types of abuse, including signs to look for when a child may be abused. This includes physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, neglect, and exposure to domestic abuse, a form of child abuse. In addition, we have included signs that an adult may be exhibiting when they are abusive to children. These are presented in easy-to-use lists in no particular order of severity. The lists have been gathered from numerous resources to collect a wide range of behaviours from a perspective of how children may act and behave when they are experiencing abuse and how adults may act and behave when they are being abusive.
The list of behaviours and actions is only a guide and is not conclusive; it does not confirm that someone is abusive or that a child is being abused. Observing behaviour in a child may be a warning sign that something is going on in the child’s life and warrants further inquiry.
For example, in the topic Children who are Neglected, the list includes academic challenges. This may be an indicator of abuse due to the child not attending school, lack of supervision to complete homework, inability to focus on academics, and the many other reasons associated with neglect. Or it could be related to learning challenges. Before jumping to conclusions that it is related to abuse, ask yourself, is there a pattern of the child struggling academically? Is there a pattern of the child not completing their homework? Is the parent willing to meet with the teacher to support the child’s academic success? Is the child demonstrating academic frustration, or is the child consumed with other things, such as home life? Are there other indicators that the child may be abused, such as low self-esteem, absent caregivers, and difficulty forming relationships?
This resource is intended to provide information to support your suspicion of abuse in order to follow your duty to report. Ask only enough questions to either support or deny your suspicion and then either follow through to report to your local Children’s Aid Society or not. Unless you are a child protection worker trained to investigate child maltreatment, do not investigate suspicions of abuse. Leave this to the authorities so the best interests, protection and well-being can be addressed.
This OER can be emotionally challenging to read, whether you are reading it for interest or a related course in an education program. The material may bring up some traumatic memories or surface thoughts and feelings about children that leave you sad. Whatever the case, be mindful of your emotions and practice self-care to support your emotional well-being.
Take the time to consider your self-care before embarking on the journey to read this resource. This may help you to cope better with what you will be reading and learning about. Please consider that learning about child abuse is an essential step in preventing child abuse. The more we know about abuse, the more we can help children who may be abused and help adults become more effective caregivers.
This resource lacks information about the devastating responses to the First Nations, Métis and Inuit Peoples by the Government of Canada. Indigenous children forced to attend Government-funded residential and day schools suffered horrific and demoralizing abuse and neglect and, in many cases, died. The effects of the residential school system and ongoing oppression and racism of the First Nations, Métis and Inuit Peoples continue to impact Indigenous people, families and communities. Information will continue to be added to this resource as we learn more.
A Note About Cases in this Resource
The case studies included in this resource are not true stories or based on someone specific. Each story is based on the experiences of the author working frontline for two decades with women and children who shared their experiences of abuse. As such, the stories accurately represent the life of a child who is exposed to abuse. If you feel a story is about you, I encourage you to seek help. Experiencing abuse at any time in your life, especially as a child, can be devastating and far-reaching. With the help of professional support, you can mitigate the impact of abuse and live a life free from the burden of shame and blame and prosper in the beauty of who you are and what you can achieve!