Child Abuse is Wrong: What Can I Do?

Neglect

Nikhita shivered as she removed her winter coat and wrapped it around little Olivia. She turned the car heater to high as she helped the seven-year-old into her car and called 9 1 1 on her cell phone. Nikhita had stayed into the evening at the school to mark exams. It had been snowing for hours when she came out, so she was shocked to find her young student huddled beside her car in the parking lot. The girl's hair and sweater were glistening with snow. Her voice was barely a whisper when she told Nikhita that no one was at home and her house was locked. No, she didn't know where her parents were. Olivia had only been at the school for a month, but Nikhita had already expressed her concern about the girl to the principal. She looked tired all the time and rarely brought a lunch to school. Now that it was winter, it was clear that she didn't have a winter coat or winter boots. The other kids had sensed Olivia was unprotected and taken to teasing her. Nikhita knew the principal had tried calling the girl's parents, but hadn't got through. Clearly, the time had come for stronger measures. It would be up to the police to figure out what was going on at home. This kind of neglect was too much. Olivia and her family needed help. Nikhita put her arm around the little girl to keep them both warm as they waited for the ambulance to arrive.

What does it look like?

Neglect happens when a parent or guardian fails to meet a child's basic needs. Sometimes parents neglect their children on purpose. Sometimes parents don't mean to neglect their children, but they have so many problems themselves that they can't look after their children properly. Neglect can include:

  • not giving a child proper food or warm clothing
  • not providing a child with a safe and warm place to live
  • not making sure a child washes regularly
  • not providing enough health care or medicine
  • not paying any attention to a child's emotional needs
  • not preventing physical harm, and
  • not making sure a child is supervised properly.

Sometimes, neglect can hurt just as much as physical abuse.

Some forms of neglect are crimes in Canada. For example, failing to provide the necessaries of life* and child abandonment* are crimes. The provinces and territories also have laws to protect children from neglect. These laws protect children even if the type of abuse is not a crime.

For more information on neglect, visit the Public Health Agency of Canada's website found in "Who Can Help?" at the back of this booklet. Search for "child neglect."

What can I do?

Every province and territory has a law that says that any person who believes a child is being abused must report it. You will not get in trouble for making the report if you have reason to believe a child is being abused, even if it turns out you were wrong.

If you believe that a child you know is being neglected you can:

  • Call your local child protection services.
  • Call the police.
  • Talk to a public health nurse, doctor, social worker or teacher.
  • Call your local help line.
  • In an emergency, call 9-1-1.
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