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Types of Harm

Children exhibit signs of harm and neglect in many different ways. Often they show a number of behavioral and physical indicators. Some of the signs of harm to a child include:

Physical Harm

Physical harm is any maltreatment of a child caused by the action (or lack of action) of the child’s caregiver. Injuries that may occur include: bruising, welts, cuts, fractures, burns or internal injuries. Physical harm can occur as an isolated incident or continue over a period of time. Physical harm can also occur when a person fails to adequately supervise, protect, care for or provide for a child. Physical abuse also includes a pattern of neglect in supervising, protecting, caring for or providing for a child.

Signs of physical harm include:

  • Presence of various injuries over a period of time
  • Facial injuries in infants and preschool children
  • Injuries inconsistent with the child’s age
  • Presence of several injuries that are in various stages of healing
  • Child cannot recall how injuries occurred
  • Offers an inconsistent explanation
  • Wary of adults
  • May flinch if touched unexpectedly
  • Extremely aggressive
  • Extremely withdrawn
  • Indiscriminately seeks affection

Emotional Harm

Emotional harm includes all acts that result in the lack of a nurturing environment for a child. It occurs when the caregiver treats the child in such a negative way that the child’s concept of “self” is seriously impaired. Emotional harm can be the most difficult to identify and prove. It also occurs when a child exhibits the below serious behaviours and the person having charge of the child does not provide services or treatment to alleviate the harm. Emotional abuse can also include exposure to adult conflict, woman abuse and partner violence.

Emotionally harmful behaviour by the caregiver can include:

  • Constant yelling
  • Demeaning remarks
  • Rejecting, ignoring or isolating the child
  • Terrorizing the child

Signs of emotional harm can include:

  • Severe depression
  • Serious anxiety
  • Extreme withdrawal
  • Extreme aggression
  • Extreme attention seeking
  • Extreme inhibition
  • Bed wetting that is non-medical in origin
  • Frequent psychosomatic complaints (headaches, nausea, abdominal pains)
  • Failure to thrive
  • self destructive or aggressive behaviours


Neglect usually results from the lack of knowledge about appropriate care for children or an inability to plan appropriately for the child’s needs. Neglect also occurs when a child has a medical, mental, emotional or developmental condition that requires services or treatment and the person having charge of the child does not provide these services or treatment.

Neglect includes a caregiver failing to provide:

  • Adequate food and shelter
  • Safety
  • Medical or psychological treatment
  • Supervision
  • Adequate sleep
  • Clothing

Signs of neglect include:

  • Poor hygiene
  • Unattended physical problems or medical needs
  • Consistent lack of supervision
  • Frequent absence from school
  • Engaged in delinquent acts or alcohol/drug abuse
  • Frequently arriving at school without a lunch
  • Inappropriate clothing for the weather
  • Consistently dirty clothes

Sexual Harm

Sexual harm is any sexual exploitation of a child by an older person having charge of a child or another person. It also occurs when the person having charge of a child knows, or should know, of the possibility of sexual molestation or exploitation by another person and fails to protect. The Criminal Code of Canada identifies a number of types of sexual harm, including:

  • Invitation to sexual touching
  • Sexual exploitation
  • Procuring sexual activity from a child
  • Caregiver permitting sexual activity
  • Exposing genitals to a child
  • Incest
  • Exposing to or engaging in pornography

Signs of sexual harm include:

  • Age-inappropriate play with toys, self or others
  • Unusual or excessive itching in the genital or anal area
  • Injuries to the genital or anal areas, e.g. bruising, swelling or infection
  • Displaying explicit sexual acts
  • Torn, stained or bloody underwear
  • Age-inappropriate sexually explicit drawing or descriptions
  • Bizarre, sophisticated or unusual sexual knowledge
  • Prostitution
  • Seductive behaviour


Abandonment is when a child has been abandoned, a child’€™s parent has died or is unavailable to exercise his or her custodial rights over a child and has not made adequate provision for a child’€™s care and custody. It also occurs when a child is in a residential placement and the parent refuses or is unable or unwilling to resume the child’€™s care and custody.

Serious Act Committed by a child under the age of 12

This is when a child has killed or seriously injured another person or caused serious damage to another person’€™s property. Services or treatment are necessary to prevent a recurrence and the child’€™s parent or the person having charge of the child does not provide, or refuses or is unavailable or unable to consent to those services or treatment. The child has on more than one occasion injured another person or caused loss or damage to another person’€™s property, with the encouragement of the person having charge of the child or because of that person’€™s failure or inability to supervise the child adequately.

Caregiver Capacity

This is when no harm has come to child and no evidence is apparent that a child may be in need of intervention. However, the caregiver demonstrates, or has demonstrated in the past, characteristics that indicate the child would be at risk of harm without intervention. These characteristics can include a history of abusing/neglecting a child, being unable to protect a child from harm, problems such as drug or alcohol abuse, mental health issues or limited caregiving skills.