The Abuse of Power

by Catherine Wilson, Editor

When thinking about statistics on child abuse, it’s important to note that the very idea of child abuse is controversial. Only recently–and only in certain countries and cultures–has child abuse come to be seen as a major social problem. Even the most objective scientific research is imperfect. There are even conflicts about how to define abuse and neglect.

There are no national statistics on child abuse in Canada because definitions vary across the country’s provinces and territories. However, the National Clearinghouse on Family Violence (a Website of Health Canada) distributes publications containing information on local, regional and/or provincial/territorial data.

What Is Child Abuse?

Child abuse occurs when a parent, guardian or caregiver mistreats or neglects a child, resulting in

injury, or

significant emotional or psychological harm, or

serious risk of harm to the child.

Child abuse entails the betrayal of a caregiver’s position of trust and authority over a child. It can take many different forms.

Physical abuse is the deliberate application of force to any part of a child’s body, which results or may result in a non-accidental injury. It may involve hitting a child a single time, or it may involve a pattern of incidents. Physical abuse also includes behaviour such as shaking, choking, biting, kicking, burning or poisoning a child, holding a child underwater, or any other harmful or dangerous use of force or restraint. Child physical abuse is usually connected to physical punishment or is confused with child discipline.

It is clear that many cases of child abuse, even some serious ones, are not reported. Individuals and professionals working with children may fail to report because they do not recognize the signs and symptoms of child abuse. In some instances, they may tend to resist admitting to themselves that it is really happening or that it is serious enough to report. Several other factors inhibit voluntary reporting:

the nature of family problems related to child abuse and neglect;

the sense of secrecy and shame surrounding child maltreatment;

the possible consequences of intervention by child protection authorities or police, and

many of the victims are young and relatively dependent.

Children may want to disclose their abuse so it can be stopped, but they are often afraid that no one will believe or help them. They may be afraid of what will happen. Abusive parents frequently warn their children not to tell anyone. They may convince the child that the abuse is the child’s fault, and that telling someone will only get them into more trouble.

Detecting and reporting child abuse is your responsibility. Dentists and all dental staff members are mandated reporters. As such, we are pleased to provide details of P.A.N.D.A. (Prevent Abuse and Neglect through Dental Awareness), a ‘dentist’s introduction to recognizing child abuse.’

Remember, the worst thing that can be done to an abused child is nothing.