What Is Child Abuse?
Abuse, also called maltreatment, is the act of emotionally, sexually or physically hurting a child. It includes depriving a child of affection and acceptance, neglecting to meet their day-to-day needs or endangering them in any way. Maltreatment also includes sexual exploitation and exposing a child to sexual contact, activity or behaviour.
Recognizing Signs Of Child Abuse
Children may display physical or emotional signs of maltreatment. Signs may include:
- Sudden changes in behaviour or performance.
- Unexplained physical injuries or injuries that don’t match the child’s explanation.
- Extreme behavioural reactions such as aggression or withdrawal.
- Sexual knowledge or behaviour beyond their stage of development.
- Does not want to be at home or runs away.
- Always hungry, sick or not suitably dressed for the conditions.
Be Aware Of Your Initial Reaction
A child may come to a trusted adult because they believe you can help. Although it is common to feel fear, disbelief, anger, or sadness, it’s important to set aside personal feelings and stay calm. Initial reactions are critical for the child’s path to healing.
- Allow the child to do most of the talking. If you need more understanding about the context, use an open-ended question or phrase such as “Tell me more.”
- Once you have reasonable grounds to suspect abuse, or the child discloses, stop asking any further questions.
- Reassure the child that telling you was the right thing to do.
- Explain to the child that you believe them and will need to tell someone who can help them. You cannot keep it a secret.
Document Any Comments Verbatim
This includes those made by the child, parent, caregiver, or anyone else relevant to the situation.
Why does Children’s Services sometimes require more information?
To move forward with an assessment, concerns about the child’s survival, security or development must fall within the Child Youth and Family Enhancement Act. Children’s Services (CS) cannot assess or investigate a family without reasonable and probable grounds according to this legislation.
An open-ended question such as “Tell me more about….” helps to gain further understanding about the situation without probing for investigative details. For example, a child may disclose that dad “beat” him. When asked to provide further details, the child could reveal that dad “beat” them at a video game – a situation that doesn’t warrant the involvement of CS.
If the child discloses further details that are concerning, responds with an explanation that doesn’t match the context, becomes nervous or fearful, doesn’t want to provide further information or says that it is a secret, report your concerns to CS. If a child does reveal suspected abuse, do not probe for additional details.
Why are children sometimes interviewed at school?
At times, due to risk factors for a child’s safety or the ability of a child to be comfortable, open and honest when talking about potential child maltreatment, an interview may occur at the school without the permission of the parent or guardian.
Following the interview with the child, the CS worker will contact the family to inform them of the interview. If an alternate communication plan is needed, it will be developed with the school and the CS worker.
Reports that are determined to require an emergency assessment (on the same day and within a short time of the referral being made) will most frequently result in an interview occurring at the school to ensure the safety of the child(ren).
It is extremely helpful to call CS as early in the day as possible. This allows more time for planning a safe location, most likely the school, to assess the situation.
Why might Children’s Services ask me to call parents?
In calls where there is some lack of clarity about what the child may be disclosing, calling parents can help determine if there is a logical or reasonable explanation for the concern. For example, the school may be concerned about a child who consistently has no lunch. When a phone call home is made, it could be determined that mom is consistently making lunch, however the child is throwing it away as they prefer what the school provides.
If the reporter feels uncomfortable when asked to call home or has already tried several times, identify this to the CS intake worker so they can make further plans.
Do Children’s Services become involved in attendance concerns?
On its own, attendance is not sufficient cause for Children’s Services involvement. In Alberta attendance at school is mandated by the School Act rather than the Child Youth and Family Enhancement Act. Attendance is an important factor in school success and repeated unexplained absences should be discussed with the administration and/or student services team.
If attendance is one factor among several concerns pertaining to the safety, security or development of the child, this should be reported to Children’s Services.
What happens after a report is made?
Depending on the situation and information provided, some possible outcomes of a report are:
- The information is documented but there is not yet enough information to meet the Child Youth and Family Enhancement Act. to proceed with any action. You may be asked to track who you spoke to and continue to document.
- The information is documented in the Children Services system because it meets the legislation. If there are factors keeping the children safe, no further action will be taken at this time.
- The information is documented the Children Services system and a decision is made that further work is needed to determine next steps.
- The information is determined to be an immediate response. This means that there are imminent safety concerns. These include, but are not limited to:
- no care provider or no sober care provider,
- the child has a physical injury believed to be non-accidental,
the child refuses to go home due to abuse and the guardian cannot be contacted to plan,
- the child is actively suicidal, and parents are advised and are unable or unwilling to plan,
- severe neglect
- high risk newborns
Should I report sexualized behaviors in students UNDER the age of 12?
When a school receives a disclosure or is made aware of sexualized behaviors that occurred between children, the school has the responsibility to address the concern and ensure the safety of all students. The behavior can be treated similar to other unwanted behaviors at school, such as bullying. It should not be an “investigation” to see who the “perpetrator” is, but simply a conversation with all students involved to get an understanding of what happened.
If a child does disclose sexual abuse, stay neutral and calm. Do not display intense emotion (extreme concern, disgust, alarm) as this may frighten and/or shame the child. Reassure the child that they have done the right thing by telling school staff.
The level of response depends on the severity of the behaviour. Behaviours may fall in the normative range of sexual development for a specific age range, be cause for concern or may be cause for serious concern. Different situations require different responses/actions.
For further information, please access the following resources:
- Mental Health Online Resources for Educators (MORE courses). Check the brochure for the archived course: Understanding and Managing Children’s Problematic Sexual Behaviour in School Settings (Grade ECS‐7) Developed by the CCAC AHS child abuse therapy team.
- Responding to Children’s Problematic Sexualized Behaviours: A Resource for Educators
- AHS Child Abuse Service – 403-428-5320 (parents can be provided this number if they are needing support in addressing their child’s problematic sexualized behaviors)
When is Calgary Police Service become involved in investigating child abuse?
During any assessment, Children’s Services and CPS/RCMP will join forces when needed to ensure the safety of the child and further investigate the situation, sometimes from the very start (depending on the complexity and severity of the suspected abuse.)
In the case of extra-familial sexual assault, students and parents/caregivers should be encouraged to contact the police. This can be done through the School Resource Officer or calling CPS at 403-266-1234 or the local RCMP (outside of Calgary). Reporting a sexual assault to the police is important to protect other potential victims from harm, hold the offender accountable and preserve any existing evidence.
A report to Children’s Services should also be made if:
- There are concerns, or you don’t know, whether the parents cannot or will not protect the student or their siblings; or
- A child under the age of 12 is exhibiting inappropriate sexualized behaviours.
Regardless of their decision to contact police, the student and parent/legal guardian need to be made aware of the resources available to them.
Report Your Concerns
When child abuse is exposed, we often hear that people had their suspicions but were too uncertain or afraid to do anything about them. Imagine how the child felt and how different their life could have been if someone had spoken up on their behalf.
It is your legal duty to report suspected child abuse. Your responsibility is simply to report reasonable suspicions or concerns, not prove them. Confidentiality is guaranteed. The report must come from the person who receives the information firsthand, not a third party. You do not need permission to report, nor can anyone prevent you from calling.
All calls are important, no matter how small. Your information could complete the puzzle and tip the scales for a response.