Child Abuse

The topics in the Dial-A-Law series provide general information on legal issues within the Province of Alberta. The purpose of this topic is to inform you of your legal rights and responsibilities. This is not legal advice. If you require legal advice, you should contact a lawyer.

This topic discusses child abuse. It identifies the actions that should be taken when child abuse or mistreatment is suspected.

Child abuse is any act that will endanger the development, security or survival of a child.  It includes physical beatings, sexual activity of any kind, emotional abuse and neglect. Neglect is the failure to provide the child with love and affection, food, clothing, shelter and protection from harm. Child abuse applies to any child or youth who is under 18. The abuser may be a stranger, neighbor, friend, or a family member.

There are certain situations and reasons that can be the cause of child abuse. A few of these situations are where there is general family violence in the child’s home, drug or alcohol use by a parent, lack of proper parenting skills, constantly putting a child down, a parent’s mental illness, isolation from social activities, a parent having unrealistic expectations for their child and parents that were abused themselves as kids. This is not a complete list as there are several other situations within the home that can increase the risk of child abuse or neglect. It is important to be mindful that the existence of one of these situations will not guarantee that child abuse or neglect will occur. However, it is important to be aware of its reasons and causes so that a person can take the necessary steps required to prevent any harm to the child in the long run.

Child abuse can be prevented if the signs of child abuse are recognized early on. There are various signs a child may show that can indicate they are experiencing abuse. It is important to be aware of what the warning signs are so that you may report the incidents immediately. The list below identifies a few signs however, be mindful this is not a complete list:

  • Drastic change in the child’s behavior or appearance
  • A child’s inappropriate dress given weather
  • Frequently being absent school
  • Attempts at running away from home
  • Unusual advanced knowledge of sexual interactions
  • Unexplained bruises and other injuries a child may uncommonly display and be defensive about
  • Child displaying fear for parent or guardian or other adults

Obtain medical assistance if the child’s injuries require immediate attention. Advise the doctor or nurse to take photographs of child’s injuries. This may be used in further court proceedings.

If a child talks about physical or sexual abuse, keep calm and listen carefully. Do not press the child for more information if they do not feel comfortable. Let the child know that you believe them and offer as much support to make them feel safe. Next, call the Child Welfare Authorities and the police immediately. The child must be protected and comforted until their arrival.  Do not ask the child for details of the abuse. It is the police’s job to ask the necessary questions, under appropriate conditions. If you interfere, the investigation may be hampered and the success of the Court case can be jeopardized.

A child’s well being is to be kept at the highest priority. Under the Alberta Child, Youth and Family Enhancement Act, a person who has reasonable suspicions of child abuse or neglect, must report it. A failure to report is an offence under this Act. Your name will be kept confidential. No one is liable for making a report that proves to be false unless the report was made with bad intentions. Along with reporting and calling the police or R.C.M.P about the abuse, you may call the 24-hour child abuse hotline at 1-800-387-5437 (KIDS) to tell them a child needs protective services. They will tell you what to do next.  If you are sheltering a child who fears abuse, do not let the child leave your company until the authorities arrive. This is critical where the abuser may be the parent or the child is in immediate danger from any other person.

Dial-A-Law is a Calgary Legal Guidance public service project funded in part by the Alberta Law Foundation.