Child Abuse Intervention

Child abuse intervention refers to handling disclosures of abuse. Prevention can mean two different things.

Within the context of intervention and prevention, an outsider would prevent further abuse by intervening in some way when suspected or known child abuse is taking place.

Prevention also means obtaining information about what constitutes abuse, and then gaining the necessary skills in order to ensure child abuse doesn't happen in the first place.

When someone intervenes, the chances of preventing further abuse are greatly increased.

But being reactive can't be considered the answer. Being proactive stands a much better chance at prevention.

Child abuse intervention and prevention is both a societal and governmental issue. It's not one or the other.

None of us can afford to turn a blind eye. If we do, there is increased risk of bullying and abusive behaviours as that child gets older and matures into adulthood. Which in turn, often leads to incarceration.

Types of Disclosures:

There are two types of disclosures. They can be purposeful or accidental.

  1. Verbal disclosures
  2. Non-verbal disclosures

Verbal Disclosures:

Verbal disclosure are purposeful, and occur when the child or youth consciously decides to discuss his or her abuse.

Why Youth Do Disclose Abuse

76%       I told because I couldn't hold it in any longer.
56%       I told because I wanted it to stop so my life could go on.
56%       I told because I wanted him/her to be punished.
53%       I finally felt comfortable enough to tell.
50%       I was afraid someone else would get hurt if I didn't talk.
48%       I was afraid I'd get hurt if I didn't tell.
41%       I told because I couldn't sleep/ eat/ think anymore.
41%       I got tired of the unwanted sexual experiences.
40%       Someone else convinced me to tell.
35%       Someone else told me about their unwanted experiences.
31%       I was pregnant or afraid I might be.
28%       Due to a school program about unwanted sex experiences.
22%       I told because I didn't want to go home.

Kellogg and Huston, 1995, pp. 308-3091

Non-Verbal Disclosures:

Non-verbal disclosure are accidental, and occur when the child or youth does not consciously decide to reveal abuse.

Child abuse can be revealed in several unintended ways:

Someone else observes the abusive behaviour of a caregiver toward a child or youth. Observations like this must be reported.

The physical marks of abuse and neglect are evident on the child's body. Child abuse intervention is required--report the suspected abuse to the authorities.

A pattern of inappropriate behaviours or sudden changes in behaviours by the child or youth cause caregivers or professionals to suspect abuse is taking place. Report any suspected abuse to the authorities.

A child or youth displays chronic low self-esteem that may reveal the child/youth is in an abusive or neglectful situation.

Health care professionals discover sexually transmitted diseases or pregnancies, which could be indicators of sexual abuse. Report these findings.

Why Youth Don't Disclose Abuse

74%       I was scared.
60%       I was embarrassed.
55%       I didn't want to get into trouble.
47%       I didn't want anyone else to get into trouble.
46%       No one would believe me.
29%       I still like/love the other person.
29%       I was my fault as much as the other person's.

Kellogg and Huston, 1995, pp. 308-3092

As identified above, child abuse intervention may involve dealing with a disclosure. When dealing with disclosures of abuse and neglect, the recommended procedure is called HEARS:

Hear: Listen to your friend.
          Tell your friend: "I believe you."

Encourage; empathize
          Tell your friend: "I'm sorry this happened to you."

Affirm; acknowledge
          Tell your friend: "It's not your fault."
                                  "I'm glad you told me."

Report; refer; reassure
          Tell your friend: "Together we're going to get some help."

          Disclosures of child abuse and neglect can be very stressful.
          Take care of yourself afterward. My 3 Bs of self-care:

                 Breathe (easy to forget to do when under stress)
                 Boom-box (listen to great music)
                 Bubble bath (when I get home)

Child Abuse Intervention – Making a Report:

Child abuse intervention (a report of abuse and neglect to authorities) may be done by telephone, by letter, by e-mail or in person.

A report can be made anonymously, but divulging who you are and the relationship you have with the child or youth will aid in the investigation.

When a report of abuse and neglect is made, child abuse intervention dictates that the person or organization making the report must act in a way that:

»  protects the child or youth
»  protects other children/youth who may be involved
»  respects the rights of alleged abuser; keeps information confidential
»  cooperates with Child Protection Agencies and possibly police

Child Abuse Prevention:

Child abuse prevention means taking steps to ensure abuse never happens in the first place. Prevention means setting up laws, policies and declarations that deal with the rights of children and youth.

Prevention must be proactive.

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is one such declaration. Canada ratified this convention on December 13, 1991.

This child abuse prevention document outlines many ways that societies are responsible for their children. The document identifies that children shall be given opportunities and facilities, by law and other means, to enable him or her to develop physically, mentally, morally, spiritually, and socially in a healthy and normal manner and in conditions of freedom and dignity.

The estimated cost of child sexual abuse in Canada exceeds $3.6 billion. The true cost is higher because of secrecy and the dependency that children often have on their abusers. Other costs are estimated at: Justice system: $8 billion/year; economic costs of violence against women: $4.2 billion/year; and each youth suicide: $640,000 to $3,000,000 (Hankivsky, 2003, forthcoming3).

The above statistics do not take into account all other forms of abuse.

Some Noteworthy Child Abuse Prevention Quotes

Every time you treat a child with respect, that child feels just a little bit taller. ~Family Services Canada

[C]hildren present us with a uniquely compelling motivation for mobilization. Our collective failure to protect children must be transformed into an opportunity to confront the problems that cause their suffering. ~G. Machal, 1996

Few things in life are more satisfying than the experience of being your whole self, simply and honestly, and feeling good about who you are. ~Bass & Kaufman

Children who are able to remain hopeful about the future, are flexible and adaptable, possess problem-solving skills, and actively try to assume control over their lives are likely to be less vulnerable than those who passively accept their condition. ~Puntamaki, 1987

Child abuse intervention and prevention is also empowering children and youth by teaching them:

»  what child abuse is
»  why child abuse happens
»  how to recognize when someone is being abused, and
»  where to go for help

Some numbers to call for help:

If you live in Canada, check your local phone book in the provincial blue pages under Children & Family Services for the number to call in your area to report child abuse and neglect.

The province-wide Child Abuse-Neglect toll free help line in British Columbia is: 310-1234

The help line in British Columbia for children - Deaf (TTY): 1-800-667-4770

You can also check out abuse hotlines for more numbers from around the world.

Child abuse intervention and prevention is everyone's responsibility, ethically, morally, and legally.

Stop further child abuse by reporting it!


NOTE: Information pages on this site were based on material from the Canadian Red CrossCanadian Red Cross RespectED Training Program. Written permission was obtained to use their copyrighted material on this site.

Child Abuse Intervention

1 & 2 Kellogg, N., & Huston, R. (1995, June). Unwanted sexual experiences in adolescents: Patterns of disclosure. Clinical Pediatrics, 306-311.

Child Abuse Prevention

3 Hankivsky, O. (2003, forthcoming). Preliminary cost estimates of child sexual abuse in Canada. Ottawa: Health Canada.

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Child Abuse Intervention was updated Feb 20, 2017

E-book: Victim To Victory

From Victim to Victory
a memoir

How I got over the devastating effects of child abuse and moved on with my life


E-book: Victim To Victory

From Victim to Victory
a memoir

How I got over the devastating effects of child abuse and moved on with my life


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