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Physical abuse is any deliberate physical force or action (usually by a parent, guardian or caregiver) that results, or could result, in injury to a child. Physical abuse also occurs when a person fails to adequately supervise, protect, care for or provide for a child. Physical abuse can be one or two isolated incidents or can occur over a prolonged period of time.


The signs and indicators of abuse and neglect may include but are not limited to those that follow. It is important to realize that the presence of any one indicator is not conclusive proof that a child has been abused. In most instances, abused children will exhibit a number of behavioural and physical indicators.

Behavioural indicators in children

  • Cannot recall how injuries occurred or offers an inconsistent explanation

  • Wary of adults

  • Cringes or flinches if touched unexpectedly

  • Displays a vacant stare (for infant)

  • Extremely aggressive or withdrawn

  • Indiscriminately seeks affection

  • Extremely compliant and/or eager to please

Physical indicators in children

  • Injuries such as bruises, welts, cuts, fractures, burns and internal injuries

  • Injuries that are not consistent with explanation

  • Presence of several injuries that are in various stages of healing

  • Presence of various injuries over a period of time

  • Facial injuries in infants and preschool children

  • Injuries inconsistent with the child’s age and developmental phase

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