What can be done if a child is being abused?

Region: Ontario Answer # 971

Child abuse, whether it is physical or emotional, is taken very seriously in our society. So much so that when abuse is even just suspected for a child under 16 years old (or 17 and below if living under a child protection order), members of the public in Ontario are legally obliged to report it to authorities.

If you suspect abuse is happening to a child, or you yourself are in danger, there are a number of options you have for immediate help. They include:

  • call 9-1-1 (if available in your area), or your local police emergency number
  • the Children’s Aid Society can provide help and information if child abuse is suspected or taking place
  • call a local crisis or help line, such as the Ontario Victim Support Line at 1-888-579-2888 or 416-314-2447, or the Assaulted Women’s Helpline at 1-866-863-0511 or 416-863-0511
  • Ontario Victim Services can help provide services such food, clothing and shelter
  • contact your family doctor
  • many community organizations provide social services
  • contact a lawyer referral service, a Legal Aid office or a public legal education and information association to find out where you can get legal help and if you can get help free of charge.
  • contact the Ontario Ministry of Women’s Issues or the Ontario Association of Interval and Transition Houses for a list of shelters in your area that can give temporary help and somewhere safe to stay
  • speak with someone you trust, such as family, friends or neighbours; as well,
  • The Kids Help Phone can connect kids, teens and young adults, from any community in Canada, to a professional counsellor 24 hours a day, 365 day a year. Call 1-800-668-6868, or go online at KidsHelpPhone.ca


Child protection laws

There are federal, provincial and territorial laws to protect children from abuse. These laws are called child protection laws and are dealt with in various provincial Child, Youth and Family Services Acts. Some types of abuse are crimes and are listed in the Criminal Code which is a federal law that applies across Canada.

In Ontario, child protection is dealt with in section III of the Child, Youth and Family Services Act. Professionals working with children, such as teachers, doctors, nurses, social workers and sports coaches, particularly have a duty to report abuse to authorities and can be fined up to $1,000 under the Act if they do not.

Only a reasonable belief that abuse is happening is required to trigger a report. It does not matter that there is no proof or that a report has already been filed regarding the child in the past. Anyone filing such a report is protected by statute from being sued in a civil court.

A report will result in an investigation by police and/or a worker from a local children’s aid society. A “child in need of protection” is any child suffering physical, sexual or emotional abuse, neglect or other risk of harm. A child can be removed from the home for his or her protection when there is evidence that the child has suffered harm or is in risk of future harm.

There is a heavy onus on investigators who recommend that the child be removed from his or her home.  The investigators must satisfy the court that the criteria necessary to intervene are met. Parents of a child have the right to legal representation to challenge the removal of the child.

The courts, however, can be reluctant to remove children in every case. For example, the Supreme Court of Canada decided a pregnant woman could not be taken into custody to protect her unborn child even though there was risk of harm to the child from drug and alcohol abuse. In addition, there are special provisions concerning the removal of Native children from their homes for their protection. In such circumstances, courts must recognize the uniqueness of Indian and Native culture, heritage and traditions, and take into consideration the importance of preserving the child’s cultural identity.

Also, it should be noted that children are not immune from certain types of “harm,” such as those which might be considered part of parental discipline. The Supreme Court of Canada upheld section 43 of the Criminal Code, which gives every schoolteacher, parent, or person standing in the place of a parent the right to use force by way of correction toward a pupil or child who is under his or her care, as long as the force does not exceed what is reasonable under the circumstances.

For more information about what to do if you suspect child abuse, refer to the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services.  If you require legal advice, contact a lawyer.




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