Physical Abuse - Alberta Human Services - Government of Alberta

Physical Abuse

Physical abuse is any act by the parent or guardian which results in trauma or injury to any part of a child’s body. It is the most visible form of child abuse, and can happen once or many times. These injuries are often the result of unreasonable, severe corporal punishment of a child. If physical abuse keep up, the injuries to the child become more severe and it becomes more difficult to eliminate the abusive behaviour. Children often explain injuries by saying they had an accident while playing or they got it while fighting with a sibling.

Accidental injuries look different and are usually in different places from non-accidental injuries. This is especially true in infants because they do not move around much on their own. Injuries such as broken ribs and femurs, spiral fractures, facial bruising, acceleration/de-acceleration brain injuries (shaken baby syndrome), failure to thrive (dehydration and malnutrition) are taken very seriously.

Listed below are some possible signs of physical abuse.

Physical signs

The child may:

  • have unexplained or poorly explained bruises or welts
  • have a number of scars in a regular pattern
  • have bruises in various colours in the shape of an object (cord, rope, belt, buckle, clothes hanger)
  • have human bite marks, visible handprint or finger prints
  • have unexplained burns, such as:
    • cigarette burns
    • immersion burns that are sock-shaped or glove-shaped
    • electric iron or stove burner shaped burns
  • have unexplained or poorly explained fractures, sprains, dislocations or head injuries
  • have unexplained or poorly explained cuts and scrapes
  • have any injury in a spot on their body that it is not likely to have occurred by accident (e.g. a bruised earlobe, cut behind the knee)
  • have consumed a poisonous, corrosive or non-medical mind altering substance

Behavioural signs

The child may:

  • be defensive about injuries
  • have low self esteem
  • be frightened by disapproval
  • be wary of physical contact with adults
  • show fear of parents or other adults
  • be nervous when other children cry
  • wear clothing that covers their body even when the weather is warm
  • not be able to tolerate physical contact or touch
  • has behavioural extremes, such as aggression or withdrawal
  • run away
  • not be able to make friends
  • be reluctant to undress around others
  • not show any reaction to physical pain
  • report injury by their parent

Call 310‑0000 to obtain the telephone number of your local office or call the Child Abuse Hotline: 1‑800‑387‑5437 to report a concern.

Modified: 2012-11-13
PID: 15391