Who has a legal obligation to report child abuse?

Region: Ontario Answer # 973

To report abuse, child protection laws generally require that individuals 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.

In Ontario, the Child, Youth and Family Services Act requires every person, including those who perform professional or official duties with children, to report suspected abuse of a child to the appropriate authorities. 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. To help ensure that people report child abuse, those who do so based on reasonable grounds are protected from liability in the civil courts. The duty to report applies to any child who is, or appears to be, under the age of 18 years.

Certain professionals who work with children can be fined up to $5,000 for failure to report reasonable suspicions of abuse. Examples include:

  • Health care professionals, such as physicians, nurses, dentists, pharmacists and psychologists
  • Teachers and school principals
  • Social workers and family counsellors
  • Priests, rabbis and other members of the clergy
  • Operators or employees of a day nursery
  • Youth and recreation workers
  • Peace officers and coroners

Under the Act, any director, officer or employee of a corporation who authorizes, permits or agrees not to report child abuse by an employee of the corporation is guilty of an offence and can be fined up-to $5,000.

Generally, a report must be filed under the Act even when the information might otherwise be considered confidential or privileged. The duty to report overrides other provincial statutes. Only lawyers must maintain the confidentiality of “privileged” information about clients, according to the Act.

There can also be consequences in civil courts for not reporting abuse. In an Ontario court decision, a mother who failed to report the sexual abuse of her daughter by her spouse was found guilty in tort and required to pay damages to the daughter.

Reporting a case of child abuse

In Ontario, all suspicions of child abuse or neglect must be reported directly to a children’s aid society (CAS). CASs investigate allegations of child abuse or neglect and deliver child protection services.  You will not have to give any details or proof of an actual offence, but you will be asked for as much information as you can provide. If a civil action is brought against any person who made a report, that person will be protected unless he or she acted maliciously or without reasonable grounds for his or her suspicion.

Usually, you will be asked to provide several things:

  • Your name and phone number (you may call anonymously)
  • How you know the child and your relationship to the child
  • Your immediate concerns about the child’s safety
  • Location of the child
  • Child’s age
  • Examples of what you’ve seen that have raised your concern
  • Information on the family, parents or alleged offender

After you give your report, a child protection worker will review your comments to determine if the child needs protection. The police may also be notified, if necessary. In fact, if you believe a child is in immediate danger, call the police yourself as soon as possible.

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


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