When a child is hurt intentionally, or when a parent/caregiver could have protected a child in his/her care from being harmed but failed to do so.

Types of Abuse

  • Physical abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Emotional abuse
  • Neglect

Physical Abuse

  • Physical abuse is any deliberate physical force or action that results in injury
  • Physical abuse can include punching, slapping, beating, shaking, burning, biting, or throwing a child
  • The force applied is greater than that considered to be reasonable
  • Any discipline that requires medical attention or leaves bruises, welts, or broken skin is not considered reasonable

Hamilton Child and Family Supports (HCFS) does not support the use of physical punishment as a method of discipline. When physical force is used, there is an increased risk of causing harm to the child. Handling babies roughly or shaking, whether in anger or playfulness, is always considered dangerous.

Physical Discipline

There is always a risk of harm if physical force is used. HCFS considers physical discipline to be inappropriate. While not illegal, the Supreme Court of Canada provided the following restrictions:

  • Physical discipline cannot be used toward children under two or over 12 years old
  • Objects cannot be used for physical discipline
  • A child cannot be hit anywhere other than their buttocks and must be clothed

Sexual Abuse

  • Sexual abuse occurs when a child is used for the sexual gratification of an adult or older child
  • Coercion or manipulation is a key part of sexual abuse and distinguishes it from age-appropriate play between peers
  • Sexual abuse can take many forms; it includes, but is not limited to, touching, inviting a child to touch an adult, and/or encouraging a child to participate in sexual activity

Emotional Abuse

  • Emotional abuse is a pattern of behaviour that attacks a child’s emotional development and sense of self-worth
  • It includes excessive, aggressive, or unreasonable demands beyond a child’s capacity
  • Constant criticizing, teasing, belittling, insulting, rejecting, ignoring, or isolating a child are examples of emotional abuse
  • Exposure to domestic violence is considered to place a child at risk of emotional harm
  • Emotional abuse also includes failure by a caregiver/parent to provide their child with a nurturing environment, emotional support, and guidance
  • There are significant challenges in identifying and addressing emotional abuse compared to more observable injuries (e.g., broken bones, bruising)
  • Emotional abuse may be observed through forms of anxiety (e.g., worrying, fear), depression, withdrawal, and/or self-destructive or aggressive behaviour in a child


  • Neglect is the failure to meet a child’s basic needs for food, clothing, shelter, sleep, medical attention, education, and protection from harm
  • Factors that contribute to neglect may include substance abuse, mental health issues, lack of knowledge, skill, or commitment
  • Neglect includes a lack of appropriate adult supervision, particularly for children under 10 years of age