Early Childhood Intervention: Module Two – Special Needs & Conditions

Category — 2.3. Children who are Abused: Physical Abuse

Children who are Physically Abused


Physical abuse is the deliberate use of force against a child which results or may result in bodily harm. It includes behaviours such as shaking, choking, biting, kicking, burning, poisoning, holding a child under water, or any harmful or dangerous use of restraint. Physical abuse is usually connected to punishment or confused with discipline1.

The distinction between child discipline and abuse is often poorly defined. Cultural norms about what constitutes abuse vary widely among professionals as well as the wider public. People do not agree on what behaviors constitute abuse.

Intervention Options

The child must be protected from harm. In some cases, he or she may be removed from the home (or wherever the abuse is occurring) and taken to a temporary home, with a foster family.  The person who has been abusive is asked to leave the home and stop having contact with the child.

Taking a child away from his parents and placed in another home for a period of time is a legal process that requires proof from the courts, and it is often done by government staff (Ministry for Child and Family Development, MCFD) social workers. Social workers need to obtain this proof about the need to take the child away at that time. The court order consists of a “removal” or “restraining” order. This means that the child receives only supervised visits from one of the parents while they are in custody with a foster or “provisional” family.

At a secondary level of intervention (see full Glossary), it is important to make sure the abuse has as little impact as possible on the child’s. For example, children who have been physically abused need to have medical attention to attend to scars and fractures. In addition, they need to heal the emotional scars that this type of abuse will have left for them.

There are ways to help abused children heal; for example:

  • Allow them to break the silence on the violence in their lives;
  • Increase their ability to protect themselves physically and psychologically;
  • Strengthen their self-esteem;
  • Provide a safe and fun environment where they can have positive experiences.

Adults who find themselves in an abusive situation need to get help for themselves and for their children: It is never too late to stop family violence.

We also need to ensure that the child does not return to the abusive situation or that it does not reoccur. Treatment and intervention should be sought for the abuser as well as the entire family system as everyone is affected.

Local, provincial and national resources2 are available for children and families who experience abuse and neglect.

To learn about the impact of physical abuse in the middle childhood years, please visit the six to 12 part of this course.

1 According to the National Clearinghouse on Family Violence http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/ncfv-cnivf/publications/rcmp-grc/fem-vioeffects-eng.php
2 see References

February 15, 2011   No Comments