What is child abuse?


Child abuse is anything that intentionally endangers the development, security or survival of a child.


Sexual Abuse

Sexual abuse is the improper exposure of a child to sexual contact, activity or behaviour. It includes any sexual touching, intercourse or exploitation by anyone in whose care a child has been left or who takes advantage of a child. This now includes technology facilitated sexual abuse, online luring and non-contact sexual abuse.

Physical Abuse

Physical abuse is the intentional use of force on any part of a child’s body that results in serious injuries. It may be a single incident, a series or a pattern of incidents.


Neglect is any lack of care that causes serious harm to a child’s development or endangers the child in any way. Physical neglect is the failure to meet the child’s physical needs. This includes failing to provide adequate nutrition, clothing, shelter, health care and protection from harm. Emotional neglect is the failure to meet the child’s need for affection and a sense of belonging.

Emotional Abuse

Emotional abuse is anything that causes serious mental or emotional harm to a child. Emotional abuse can take the form of verbal attacks on a child’s sense of self, repeated humiliation or rejection. Exposure to domestic violence and severe conflict in the home, forced isolation, restraint or causing a child to be afraid much of the time may also cause emotional harm. Emotional abuse rarely happens once.


How to recognize the signs of child abuse

Every child is unique and no two children will experience trauma alike. That being said, a drastic and prolonged change in a child’s typical pattern of behaviour may be cause for concern. The best way to get an understanding of what’s happening in your child’s life is to engage in open discussions and check-in on a regular basis.

For more information on child sexual abuse including behaviours that may be indicative of abuse, please consult Child Sexual Abuse – It is your business from the Canadian Centre for Child Protection. 

Adults in Alberta have a legal obligation to report child abuse to the authorities.


How to respond to a disclosure of child abuse

Would you know what to do if a child disclosed abuse to you?


Remain calm and
be strong

Do not let the child see or sense any negative emotions or reactions. An overreaction may traumatize the child.

Be an active

Following your conversation, document all information and details that can be used in an investigation.


Let the child lead the discussion

Do not fill in any blanks or ask probing and leading questions. Let the child tell you what has happened in their words.



Let the child provide additional details

Thank the child for sharing. Do not risk overwhelming the child or contaminating the evidence by seeking additional details.

Tell the child you
believe them

Reassure the child that they will be supported and kept safe by trusted adults. Thank them for their bravery and tell them that it is not their fault.

Be honest and

Tell the child that you are going to tell other adults who can keep them safe. Do not promise or assume outcomes, i.e. “the offender is going to jail”.


Receiving information regarding child abuse can be difficult. Recognize when you are in need of assistance following
a disclosure.

Report the disclosure to authorities

Please contact us for resources and other additional contacts that will aid you in reporting this case of child abuse. Take a deep breath.


What to do if you see or
suspect child abuse

Under the Child, Youth and Family Enhancement Act, anyone who has reasonable and probable grounds to believe a child is being sexually, physically, emotionally abused or neglected has a legal obligation to file a report with the authorities.


Reporting child abuse
The risks of not making a report
far outweigh the risks of reporting unfounded allegations of child abuse.  A report can be made to your local police agency or anonymously through Crime Stoppers or the Child abuse Hotline.


Reporting online exploitation
If you encounter the online exploitation of children or any material that depicts child abuse, an anonymous online report must be
made to the Canadian Centre for
Child Protection’s Cybertip.  



Learn more about reporting child abuse HERE.


To find additional resources and contacts in your community, please click here. If you encounter a child in immediate danger, please dial 911.