Is There More than Meets the Eye?: Seeing Signs of Child Abuse When Looking at Animal Welfare


Dr. Michelle Ward, MD FAAP FRCPC, Division Head, Child and Youth Protection, Department of Pediatrics, Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO), Associate Professor, Faculty of Medicine, University of Ottawa, Vice President, Child and Youth Maltreatment Section, Canadian Paediatric Society

All children in Canada deserve to grow up in an environment that nurtures them and helps them meet their best potential as children and then as adults. Unfortunately, child maltreatment (abuse and neglect) is a surprisingly common problem and often interrupts a healthy life path. Approximately 1.5% of children in Canada are the subjects of reports to a child welfare agency in which maltreatment is substantiated. However, population studies show that nearly 1/3 of adults (both men and women) report experiencing maltreatment as children. Maltreatment experienced in childhood is linked to many negative outcomes such as higher rates of violence, teen pregnancy, school problems, substance abuse and involvement with the criminal justice system. More recently, child maltreatment has also been directly linked to changes in brain development and to long-term health problems including all forms of mental health disorders and many physical health disorders such as heart disease, liver disease and diabetes. It is also a costly problem for the healthcare system and for society generally, with lost productivity and higher social service costs for victims. All Canadians have a legal and moral responsibility to report cases of possible child maltreatment to appropriate authorities. In order to do this, it is necessary to understand how to recognize signs of maltreatment and intervene in a way that is most likely to help a child. Animal welfare professionals have a special opportunity to play a positive role in these cases. This presentation will focus on practical tools to assist professionals who are involved in animal welfare to understand their role in identifying and reporting child maltreatment.

Key Learnings:

  1. Understand what child maltreatment is and how it affects children.
  2. Have tools to spot potential child maltreatment.
  3. Know how to document and report concerns to the appropriate authority.


Dr. Michelle Ward is a pediatrician and Head of the Division of Child and Youth Protection at the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO). She is an Associate Professor at the University of Ottawa, a Clinical Investigator at the CHEO Research Institute and Vice President of the Child and Youth Maltreatment Section of the Canadian Paediatric Society. She is certified in pediatrics in Canada and the United States and is Board Certified in Child Abuse Pediatrics (U.S.). Dr. Ward's clinical work involves the medical assessment and management of children with possible injuries or effects of child maltreatment. Her teaching, research, advocacy and academic interests include medical aspects of child abuse, care of children involved with the child welfare system, education of professionals, and other issues for vulnerable populations.