Information about child abuse and neglect can help parents, and others responsible for caring for children, understand what the law requires of them. It can also help people in the community to recognize and report child abuse and neglect. In Saskatchewan we have laws to protect children against abuse and neglect by a parent or guardian. These laws apply to children who are under 16 and unmarried.
The Ministry of Social Services and First Nations Child and Family Services Agencies (FNCFS) deal with situations where child abuse or neglect is suspected. These agencies have a duty to investigate suspected child abuse or neglect and take steps to protect the child in question. The goal of child protection services is to maintain children in their family home whenever possible and, if a child must be removed for their protection, to reunite families as soon as possible. For more information see PLEA's resource Child Protection.
What is child abuse or neglect?
Child abuse can happen in any family. The vast majority of abusers are people close to the child, not strangers. Child abuse is usually a pattern of behaviour not a single incident.
Neglect occurs when a child's physical or emotional needs are not met. Meeting those needs includes doing many things such as...
- making sure children get enough to eat
- taking them to a doctor when they need one
- providing proper supervision
- giving attention and affection
Abuse occurs when a child is harmed physically, sexually or emotionally by someone's actions. If a parent harms a child physically by doing things like shaking, kicking or punching the child it is abuse. If a parent harms a child emotionally by doing things like constantly criticizing or threatening the child it is also abuse. If a child repeatedly witnesses abusive behaviour or threats of abuse between caregivers this is also abuse.
Leaving Children Alone
Our laws do not set an exact age at which a child can be left alone. Children cannot be left alone if it would endanger their safety. Deciding when it is safe to leave a child alone is a matter of judgment. People responsible for deciding if the child can be left on their own would want to consider things like the child's age and ability to handle any situations that may arise, how long the child will be alone and what the child will have to do while they are on their own (i.e. make supper, look after other kids, etc.).
If parents or others in charge of children choose to use physical forms of punishment (such as spanking) it is important for them to understand when this can be considered physical abuse and an assault under the Criminal Code. Although parents, and people who stand in the place of parents, can use reasonable force to correct a child there are limits set out by law. When physical punishment is used...
- it must be intended to educate or correct the child and/or intended to restrain, control or express disapproval of the child's behaviour - outbursts of violence against a child because the parent is angry or frustrated are not excused by this section of the Criminal Code
- the child must be capable of benefiting from the discipline - children under two are always considered too young to benefit from this type of discipline; physical discipline is also not appropriate for teenagers
- the force applied must be a "minor corrective force" that is short-lived and not harmful
- objects such as belts, rulers, etc. cannot be used
- it cannot include any slaps or blows to the head
- it cannot result in injury
- it cannot be degrading or inhumane
What are some of the signs of abuse and neglect?
The following are some signs of possible abuse or neglect. No one sign or group of signs alone is proof of abuse or neglect.
Children who are abused or neglected may engage in certain behaviours and display certain physical characteristics.
- frequent absences from school
- sexual knowledge or experience that goes beyond the child's age or stage of development
- always watchful, overly compliant, passive, withdrawn or unusually fearful
- comes to places early, stays late, does not want to go home
- changes in behaviour
- disruptive behaviour
- self-abusive behaviours or self-harming
- unexplained physical injures (bruises, welts, cuts or burns)
- repeated injuries - especially of the same type
- inappropriate/dirty clothing
- inadequate protection from the weather
- not growing or reaching developmental milestones as expected for their age
- unattended physical or medical needs
Certain actions of the parent, or other person caring for the child, can also indicate possible abuse or neglect. These include when the parent or caregiver:
- shows a lack of concern for the child
- uses, or asks caretakers to use, harsh punishment if the child misbehaves
- expects the child to do things that are inappropriate based on the developmental stage of the child
- looks primarily to the child for care, attention, and satisfaction of emotional needs
- does not adequately supervise the child
What if I suspect that a child is abused or neglected?
Anyone who has reason to believe that a child is abused or neglected has a legal duty to report it. If you do not report suspected cases, you could be charged with an offence. If convicted, you could receive a fine of up to $25,000 or a jail term of up to 24 months or both a fine and a jail term.
If you suspect a child is abused or neglected you can report the information to any Social Services office, First Nations Child and Family Services Agency, or any police officer. The report is kept private. The name of anyone who makes a report is not released unless it is required for a court hearing.
You can protect children from abuse and neglect by reporting your information. For the safety of any child involved, suspected, observed or disclosed abuse should be reported immediately. You do not have to wait until you have all the information. You have a duty to report even if you think the abuse has already been reported. Do not contact the suspected abuser. If your suspicions turn out to be wrong, the law will protect you as long as your belief was reasonable and you did not knowingly make a false report.
If you are unsure whether your suspicions are reasonable, you can talk the matter over with a child protection worker or the police.
If you think you may be abusing or neglecting your own child you can contact the nearest Social Services office. Help is available.
What if a child tells me about abuse?
If a child discloses to you that they have been abused listen carefully to what they have to say. Children rarely lie about abuse. Record all the facts the child has disclosed to you. Use the exact words of the child - not your interpretation of their words. Report the information to any Social Services office, First Nations Child and Family Services Agency, or any police officer. You have a duty to do this even if the child has asked you not to tell anyone.
Where can you get help with caring for a child?
Social Services can provide assistance through their family services programs. Help is also available in the community through family service bureaus, daycare centres, support or self-help groups and agencies offering family counselling and parenting classes.
For More Information
Saskatchewan Social Services (Social Services)
Provides child and family services. Check the Government of Saskatchewan Blue Pages for your local office or find a listing of offices on saskatchewan.ca.
Provides legal services to low income individuals for family law matters including child protection cases.
Check the Government of Saskatchewan Blue Pages for your local office or check their website at legalaid.sk.ca.
Other PLEA Resources
Family Law Saskatchewan