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Reporting Child Abuse – Duty to Report

Reporting Child Abuse

Duty to Report

  • Duty to report is the most important of all child abuse laws. In Canada, if someone knows of or suspects that a child is being abused, that person has a legal obligation to report the known or suspected abuse. Failure to report can result in charges being laid, as well as a fine of up to $10,000.
  • Duty to report is in place among child abuse law in order to ensure that children do not suffer life-long abuse, and in order to ensure that abused children are protected. All of us must take responsibility when we suspect abuse is taking place, not only from a legal standpoint, but from moral and ethical obligations as well.
  • Before you say “it’s none of my business”, consider this:
  • The children of today will go on to be our teachers, politicians, and law-makers of tomorrow. These children will eventually hold our futures in their hands. We owe them–and ourselves–the best, appropriately disciplined childhood possible.
  • In the U.S.A., most states have a duty to report law that falls only on mandatory reporters such as teachers, health care professionals, daycare providers, and social workers.
  • For some U.S. mandatory reporting facts, check out
  • It should be noted that there are some states in the United States that have broad statutes requiring any person to report. I am aware of several organizations and private citizens in the U.S. trying to change federal child protection laws to make reporting child abuse EVERYONE’S duty.



Reporting Abuse or Suspected Abuse



Duty to Report

Duty to report is the most important of all child abuse laws. Everyone who has a reason to believe that a child [A child is anyone who is under the age of 19] has been or is likely to be physically harmed, sexually abused or sexually exploited, or needs protection is legally responsible to report the matter to a child protection worker.   The duty to report applies to anyone who has reason to believe that a child has been or is likely to be abused or neglected, or may need protection, to promptly report the matter to a child protection worker.

  • It doesn’t matter if you believe someone else is reporting the situation, you still have to report.
  • It doesn’t matter if you’re aware that a child protection worker is already involved with the child, you still have to report the matter. All new incidents must be reported as well.
  • The legal duty to report overrides any duty of confidentiality, except a solicitor-client relationship.
  • Time is of the essence in ensuring the safety and well-being of children. Report immediately.
  • If you have reason to believe that a child has been or is likely to be abused or neglected, then the responsibility for making a report to a child protection worker legally rests with you.
  • Do not contact the alleged perpetrator. This is the responsibility of the police, or the child protection worker.
  • If you need to contact the alleged perpetrator in order to protect children under their authority, this should be coordinated with the police and child protection worker.


How to report

Report to a child protection worker in either a Ministry for Children and Families office, or a First Nations child welfare agency that provides child protection services.

  • Anytime, call the Helpline for Children: Dial 1-800-668-6868, the Police: dial 911 or the RCMP.
  • Monday to Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., call your local district office (listed in the blue pages of your phone book).

The child protection worker will:

  • Determine if the child needs protection
  • Contact the police if a criminal investigation is required
  • Coordinate a response with other agencies, if necessary
  • If a child is in immediate danger, police should be called to intervene and a child protection worker should be contacted to determine whether the child is in need of protection.


What to report

Don’t wait until you have all this information before calling. Just tell the child protection worker as much as you know. They’ll also ask for your name, address and phone number and how you know the child. Your name will be kept confidential.

The report should include the following:

  • Your name
  • Your number
  • The child’s name
  • The child’s age
  • The location of the child
  • Your relationship to the child
  • Any immediate concerns about the child’s safety
  • Information on the situation including all physical and behavioural indicators observed
  • Information about the family, parents and alleged offenders
  • The nature of the child’s disabilities, if any
  • The name of a key support person
  • Other child(ren) who may be affected
  • Information about other persons or agencies closely involved with the child and/or family
  • Any other relevant information concerning the child and/or family such as language and culture


After you make a report

  • If it appears the child may, indeed, need protection, a child protection worker will start an investigation.
  • Depending on the kind of abuse or neglect involved, the child protection worker may contact other agencies such as the police, the Superintendent of Schools, or the local Medical Health Officer.
  • Investigations may involve interviews with the child and people who know the child, such as their parents, extended family, teacher, family doctor or child care worker.
  • If the child is Aboriginal, their band or community will also be involved. Or, the information may be turned over to an aboriginal child welfare agency.


The investigation


Once you call regarding suspicion of child abuse or actual child abuse:


Timing of the investigation

An investigation begins when a child protection worker assesses a report and believes that a child may need protection. An investigation determines:

Whether there are reasonable grounds to believe that a child needs protection; and, if so,

What action is necessary to protect the child.


Immediate investigation

The investigation must be undertaken immediately if the child’s health or safety is in immediate danger or the child is particularly vulnerable because of age or developmental level.


Delayed investigation

In any other case, the investigation must be undertaken within five working days of assessing the report, and completed within 30 days, wherever possible.


The ‘actual’ investigation

Sexual and physical abuse are crimes, so the police will be contacted for, as much as possible, a joint investigation. Neglect and emotional harm would not involve the police.

An investigation involves interviews, that could include talking to:

  • The child
  • The parents
  • brothers and sisters and anyone else who lives in the home
  • teachers
  • family doctor
  • anyone else the caller suggests may know about it.
  • A medical examination may be undertaken to make sure the child or youth is not hurt, or to ensure that if they are hurt, injuries are taken care of.
  • If the person who is believed to have abused you lives in the home, that person may be asked to leave the home during the investigation.
  • If it is sexual or physical abuse, the police talk to the person who did the abuse. Afterwards, the child protection worker will talk to that person as well.
  • After investigating, the child protection worker has to decide if there was abuse or neglect, or not.



1.    The child protection worker has reasonable grounds to believe:

Child does not need protection


Child protection worker takes no further action, OR,

Child protection worker can arrange for family support, if the family wants it

2.    The child protection worker has reasonable grounds to believe:

Child needs protection and is NOT in immediate danger


Child protection worker takes available measures that are least disruptive to the child, including:

Support services

Court order for essential health care

Temporary provision for child to reside outside of home with parent consent

Court order to remove offender from home, or prohibit contact with the child

Remove the child

3.    The child protection worker has reasonable grounds to believe:

Child needs protection and is in immediate danger


Child protection worker may remove the child

If the investigation reveals criminal offences, the police are contacted


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