Violence, trauma, sexual abuse, and other forms of abuse can have short term and long term impacts on physical and mental health. Abuse is not always physical. It can be through ongoing pattern of threats. Abuse can be emotional, verbal, mental, or sexual. It can happen through neglect or social isolation.
Abuse occurs in all cultures, within all levels of social and economic households and by both men and women in opposite sex and same sex relationships. Abuse may be directed at a partner (male or female) or at a child. Children can experience abuse directly through physical violence, sexual acts, or neglect.
Children, who experience physical violence directly, often suffer injuries including cuts, bruises, burns, and broken bones. Child abuse can also result in the following behaviours:
- Being afraid or reluctant to go home, or running away;
- showing unusual aggression, rages or tantrums;
- avoiding touch or flinching when touched; or
- withdrawing from family, friends and activities previously enjoyed.
Sexual abuse includes obvious sexual acts that the child is not able to understand or agree to such as intercourse, fondling, or any form of sexual touching. It is a criminal activity. Sexual abuse is very different from normal sexual play between children of the same age.
Most sexual abuse of children is by someone they know. Toddlers are too young to be able to effectively protect themselves from a determined sexual abuser. Children who experience sexual abuse often have behaviour changes, such as the following:
- fear or dislike of certain people or places
- unexplained or persistent pain, bleeding or unusual discharge in the genital or anal area
- seductive or "sexy" behaviour towards adults or peers
- problems in school, poor grades
- withdrawal from family, friends, or usual activities
- advanced sexual knowledge for the child's age
- regressed behaviour, such as bedwetting
- eating disorders, eating very little or excessive eating
- hostility or aggressive behaviours
- suicidal thoughts or attempt
- drug or alcohol problems
If you believe your toddler has been sexually abused, contact the police.
Children experience neglect when the parent or other caregiver does not provide for the child's basic needs such as food, shelter, basic health care, supervision or protection from risks. This can lead to harm of physical health, development or safety.
Children can also experience abuse by seeing or hearing their mother or other caregiver being physically abused.
Neglect, abuse or maltreatment in children causes stress that can affect early brain development. Extreme stress can harm the development of the nervous and immune systems. Children that have experienced abuse develop difficulties in learning, mental disorders, anxiety and behavioural problems such as hyperactivity, or lack of emotional control.
Children who are abused or neglected are at higher risk for health problems as adults. These problems include alcoholism, depression, drug abuse, eating disorders, obesity, sexual promiscuity, smoking, suicide, and certain chronic diseases.
If you find yourself in a violent situation, you must make a move to protect both you and your toddler right away. Sometimes parents feel quite helpless to do anything about violence in the home. When violence happens, get help. In case of emergency, call 9 1 1 or the operator and ask for the police.
VictimLINK is a province wide telephone help line for victims of family and sexual violence and all other crimes. VictimLINK operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and provides service in 130 languages. It will help you find information on the victim services closest to you. Phone toll free: 1 800 563 0808. For deaf and hearing impaired assistance (TTY): 604 875 0885.
A transition house may be available in your area. If you and your child need to escape from intimate partner violence, transition houses provide safe shelter for women, with or without children. The BC Society of Transition Houses provides information on transition houses across BC. Visit the British Columbia Society of Transition Houses website for more information.
You can also talk to your health care provider about your situation. She or he will put you in touch with the right resources. For a list of resources, click here.
Duty to Report Abuse or Suspected Abuse
If you have questions or suspect child abuse, contact a child welfare worker. The worker can help you determine if what you have observed is cause for concern. You do not have to give your name. Remember, it is always best to err on the side of caution.
Anyone who has reason to believe that a child has been or is likely to be abused or neglected has a legal duty under the Child, Family and Community Service Act to report the matter to a child protection social worker in either a Ministry of Children and Family Development office, or a First Nations child welfare agency that provides child protection services.
Monday to Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., call your local district office (listed in the blue pages of your phone book).
Monday to Friday, 4:30 p.m. to 8:30 a.m. and all day Saturday, Sunday and on statutory holidays, call the Helpline for Children. Dial 310-1234 (no area code needed).
For more information on reporting child abuse, visit the Ministry for Children and Family Development website.
What Parents or Caregivers can do to keep Toddlers Safe:
- Always know where your toddler is. Be actively involved, supervising your child's activities.
- Always know the people who care for your children, including names, phone numbers and addresses.
- Be aware of who else is around your toddler when they are in someone else's care.
- Be sensitive to changes in your toddler's behaviours or attitude, paying close attention to your intuition that "something isn't quite right".
- Encourage your toddler to tell you if she or he is not comfortable with anyone who is around or who cares for him. This means that as a parent you must listen carefully to your toddler and encourage your toddler to talk to you about her or his feelings, especially about friends and relatives. Pay attention when your toddler shies away from someone.
- Educate yourself (read, listen and ask).
- You can also support your toddler to develop personal boundaries by not forcing him or her to kiss or hug others. Allow your toddler to also refuse unwanted kisses and hugs or tickling.
- Help your toddler learn that "no means no" when it comes to someone touching his or her body.
For more information, see the Ministry of Children and Family Development's Keeping Kids Safe.Information on this webpage was gathered from the BC Handbook for Action on Child Abuse and Neglect (Ministry of Children and Family Development).