Your duty to report suspected child abuse and neglect
Your duty to report.
We’ve been hearing reports of sexual abuse of athletes by coaches in the news this week. It’s the responsibility of every parent or guardian to protect their child from harm. Abuse of a child by a stranger is highly unlikely as most child abuse is perpetrated by someone the child has a relationship with.
This week I’m sharing information regarding our provincial child welfare legislation: the Child Family and Community Service Act (CFCSA). This legislation is in place to ensure the safety of all children in British Columbia. I will provide an overview to help you understand your responsibilities to report suspected child abuse and neglect. It is a complex topic and my hope is if you work for an association, agency or board that serves children and youth the following will provide some clarification of your important role.
When protection is needed.
Section 13 of the CFCSA outlines When Protection is Needed. It identifies five types of abuse/harm: Physical, Sexual, Neglect, Domestic Violence and Emotional.
What to look for (Indicators).
Physical Abuse: marks that do not have a logical explanation.
Sexual Abuse: a child being sexually exploited with the parents being unwilling/unable to protect.
Neglect: inadequate clothing and/or food, dangerous living conditions, serious dental problems, lack of supervision
Emotional Abuse: anxiety, depression, withdrawn, fearful of the parent, scapegoating by parent
Domestic Violence: child is fearful, sleep disturbances, aggressive behaviour
Some common reasons for not reporting.
Unfortunately for various reasons, child abuse and neglect can go unreported leaving children and youth at risk of continued harm. Here, I hope to demystify some of the more common reasons for not reporting. If you are in doubt, please make a report. Your information could potentially be a piece of a bigger puzzle. It may seem insignificant to you, however in the context of more information, it could be very important for the overall assessment of child safety.
1. Likelihood clause. Under the CFCSA we do not need proof of harm to make a report. We don’t even need to be certain that it’s happened. This sometimes trips people up because they are confused by the criminal code where proof is needed. The CFCSA describes the likelihood of harm. For example, the Domestic Violence clause in Section 13 (1.2) addresses the likelihood of physical harm due to domestic violence. The child does not have to have sustained injuries. Similarly, with neglect. It is the likelihood of harm due to a neglectful situation.
2. Age of child. In British Columbia a child is anyone under the age of 19. Tragedies have happened because of the underreporting of at-risk youth. These are too often the children who are particularly vulnerable to sexual exploitation, addiction and physical harm.
3. Fear of removal & placement in foster care. A report does not mean a removal. Social workers develop plans for protecting children on the premise of using least intrusive measures. This means exploring a family’s natural supports for assistance in providing child safety.
Your duty to report.
As a citizen in British Columbia we all have a duty to report suspected child abuse and neglect. This responsibility is laid out in the CFCSA Section 14 which states:
Duty to report need for protection
14 (1) A person who has reason to believe that a child needs protection under section 13 must promptly report the matter to a director or a person designated by a director.
This responsibility is taken so seriously that section 14 provides a clause for making false reports and failing to report could result in a fine and/or a jail term.
What happens if a child makes a disclosure of abuse.
Having a child disclose to you that they are being abused can be a difficult experience for anyone. It can leave you with mixed emotions and sometimes confused as to how to react in the moment. Here are a few tips:
1. Stay calm. Keep a neutral tone so that the child feels safe and comfortable in the conversation.
2. Don’t begin an investigation. Stick to open ended clarifying questions. It is not your responsibility to dig for more information. Be empathic.
3. Avoid making promises to the child about keeping the information a secret.
How to make a report.
The duty to report is incumbent on the individual who has witnessed the concern. A report must be made by that person, not their supervisor or colleague. For example, if you are a coach and a disclosure is made to you, the president of the association should not be making the report on your behalf. The Ministry of Children and Family Development receives all child welfare reports through their Provincial Centralized Screening Team. The number for anywhere in the province at any time day or night is 1 800 663-9122
Information to have on hand when making the report.
When calling the Centralized Screening Team you will speak with a social worker. You may be asked any of the following:
The child’s or youth’s name and location
Whether there are any immediate concerns about his or her safety
Why you believe the child or youth may be at risk
Any statements or disclosures made by the child or youth
The child’s or youth’s age and vulnerability
Information about the family, parents and alleged offender;
Information about siblings or other children or youth who may be at ris;
Whether you know of any previous incidents involving, or concerns about the child or youth
Information about other persons or agencies closely involved with the child, youth and/or family
Information about other persons who may have information about the child or youth;
Information about the nature of the child’s or youth’s disabilities, his or her mode of communication, and the name of a key support person
Any other relevant information concerning the child, youth and/or family, such as language or culture.
If you don’t have all of the information – no problem. If you have access to any of this information ahead of the call it is helpful to have it handy.
All reports of suspected child abuse and neglect can be made to the Provincial Centralized Screening Team of Ministry of Children and Family Development at 1 800 663-9122
If the child is in immediate danger, please call 9-1-1.
Now What is made up of a team of facilitators with backgrounds in the child welfare system. We have significant experience working within the legal framework of the Child family and Community Service Act and in assessing risk in order to ensure child safety. Please reach out if you are interested in a presentation on your Duty to Report suspected Child Abuse or Neglect.