Family Violence Initiative

Child abuse

Renée quickened her pace as she neared the Child Protection office. She could feel herself breaking into a sweat. She had called and made an appointment first thing this morning. Renée hadn't slept at all since last night when her brother, Peter, had taken a cane to his son Adam and beaten him hard with it. The six-year old boy had stolen his friend's soccer ball and brought it home. "That will teach him a lesson," Peter had said. Renée had tried to intervene, but Peter had pushed her away and told her to mind her own business. "I'm the father: I know what I am doing," he had yelled. Renée had been living with her brother and his family for just a few months since coming to Canada, but already she was concerned for the boy's safety. "You can't do this, Peter. It's abuse. You will hurt Adam in so many ways—and not just with bruises. He won't trust you or anyone else!" she had cried. Renée was certain this kind of discipline was a crime in this country. Peter had made fun of her in front of a house full of family and friends. "You don't know anything about real families. You have no children of your own." Renée had gone numb and just backed away. Her eyes had filled tears while her brother had carried on. But now her mind was racing. Why hadn't she stopped her brother? Was she afraid of him too? Why hadn't her sister-in-law said something? Did she worry that if she called the police she would lose her family? Getting out of the house made Renée feel stronger. She knew she had to protect her nephew. She would report this and get them all some help. Her family might be angry with her—to follow their rules meant keeping problems like this quiet. But she knew she could deal with that. Keeping Adam safe was more important than anything else to her. She wanted a bright future for him.

What does it look like?

Being a parent is sometimes difficult. If you believe that your child's behaviour is disrespectful or bad, resorting to violence is not the answer. It will only cause you to hurt that child and you may face criminal charges. Many kinds of abuse are crimes.

If you need help understanding and guiding your child's behaviour or to help your child get through some difficult times, get advice from a trusted friend, doctor, social worker, school guidance counsellor or teacher. Nothing justifies the use of violence. In addition to criminal law, provincial and territorial child protection laws protect children from abuse and neglect.

In Canada, every province and territory has a law that says that any person who believes a child is being abused must report it. For example, if your children are being abused or exposed to family violence, you must get help for them. You can go to a child protection or family services agency for help or counselling. If you do not take steps to protect your children, the police or child protection services may become involved. These laws protect children even if the type of abuse or neglect is not a crime. If you feel that you cannot protect your children, call the police.

Children who see or hear family violence

If you are a parent and you are being abused, the abuse can make it hard for you to look after your children. The abuse may leave you with very little energy to care for your children. You might feel guilty that you are not able to give them what they need.

It can be very hard for children to see or hear family violence even if they are not being physically hurt by the violence. They will probably feel scared and insecure. They may do poorly in school or in social situations. They may learn not to respect you or themselves. They may become bullies or victims of bullying at school. They may grow up to be abusive or victims of abuse when they have their own families.

If your children are exposed to family violence, that can also be a reason for child protection services to get involved.

Help is available. It is never too late to change things for your children.

For more information on child abuse see "Child Abuse is Wrong: What Can I Do?".
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