Duty to report suspected cases of abuse or neglect

Region: Ontario Answer # 1416

What is the law?

Under the Ontario Child, Youth and Family Services Act (CYFSA), everyone has a shared responsibility for the welfare of children and to protect them from harm. The CYFSA places a duty on all members of the public but stresses an added responsibility on professionals and officials that work closely with children. This includes teachers, school principals, counsellors, child care centre workers, youth workers, etc.

Section 125 of the CYFSA requires that any suspicion of child neglect or abuse cases must quickly be reported to a children’s aid society. This may include any physical, emotional or sexual abuse, threats of harm or neglect.

The duty to report applies to all children under the age of 16 years old. Reports may be made for 16-17 year old children if there is concern for their safety as well.

What are signs of child abuse or neglect?

Child abuse may include:

  • Physical – cuts, burns, bruising, punching, slapping, shaking, beating or throwing children. The use of other objects such as sticks, belts etc. is also considered abuse.
  • Sexual – this may include several sexual acts out of fear, coercion or to please the abuser. Can include sexual intercourse, engaging in prostitution, exposing a child, or indecent phone calls/conversations etc.
  • Emotional – repeated behaviour that targets a child’s emotional well-being or self-esteem. Can include constant criticism, insults, belittling, teasing or isolating the child. Exposure to domestic violence can also emotionally harm a child.
  • Neglect – failure to provide basic living needs to children i.e. food, safety, education, sleep, medical treatment or clothes. Leaving children alone, unsupervised also amounts to child neglect.

What are reasonable grounds of child abuse or neglect?

To report abuse, individuals do not need to be certain that a child may be in danger, they only need to have reasonable grounds, based on an honest belief, that harm is being done or could be done to a child. A decision to report abuse can even be founded on partial or incomplete information, or mere suspicion.

Professional confidentiality

Generally, a report must be filed under the Act even when the information might otherwise be considered confidential or privileged. The duty to report takes priority over any other conflicting provincial laws on disclosing private information, including the Personal Health Information Protection Act.

Ongoing duty to report

A person is required to report each time he or she has grounds to believe that abuse is occurring, even if he or she has already reported a suspicion in the past.

Penalty for failure to report

Under section 125(9) of the CYFSA, individuals convicted of failure to report suspicions of child abuse or neglect may be fined up to $5,000.

For more information, refer to #973 Who has a legal obligation to report child abuse.


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