Difference between revisions of "Reporting Suspected Child Abuse"

From Clicklaw Wikibooks
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{{REVIEWEDPLS | reviewer = Thomas E. Wallwork|date= July 2017}} {{Dial-A-Law TOC|expanded = children}}
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{{REVIEWEDPLS | reviewer = [https://churcherlaw.com/ Christine Churcher], Churcher Law|date= April 2020}} {{Dial-A-Law TOC|expanded = children}}
The law protects children from sexual and physical '''abuse''' and from '''neglect'''. Learn how child protection laws work, and what to do if you think a child is being abused.
+
The law protects children from physical and sexual abuse, as well as neglect. Learn how child protection laws work and what to do if you think a child is being abused.
 +
 
 +
{| class="wikitable"
 +
|align="left"|'''Alert!'''
 +
This information has been updated to reflect [https://dialalaw.peopleslawschool.ca/the-divorce-act-is-changing changes to the ''Divorce Act''] that took effect on March 1, 2021.
 +
|}
  
 
==What you should know==
 
==What you should know==
  
===How abuse and the neglect of children is defined===
+
===How abuse and the neglect of children are defined===
The protection of children is one of society’s greatest obligations. In addition to the criminal and civil laws that apply to everyone, there is also a [https://www.canlii.org/en/bc/laws/stat/rsbc-1996-c-46/latest/rsbc-1996-c-46.html specific provincial law] intended to protect children from sexual and physical abuse and from neglect. This law defines a “child” as any person under 19 years of age.
+
Protecting children is one of society’s greatest responsibilities. There are criminal and civil laws that apply to everyone. There’s also a [http://canlii.ca/t/84dv provincial law] that aims to protect children from neglect and sexual and physical abuse. This law defines a '''child''' as any person '''under 19 years of age'''.
 +
 
 +
Here are some key terms.
 +
 
 +
'''Physical abuse''' means any action or physical force by a parent or adult that could or does hurt a child. It includes:
 +
 
 +
* hitting, slapping, pushing, shaking, and choking
 +
* locking a child in a room or out of the house
 +
* using unreasonable force to discipline a child
 +
 
 +
'''Sexual abuse''' means any sexual touching or intercourse between a child and an older person, or using a child for sexual purposes. It also includes making a child watch sexual acts.
 +
 
 +
'''Sexual exploitation''' is a form of sexual abuse that occurs when a child is persuaded to engage in sexual or sexualized activity. Usually this happens through manipulation or coercion, in exchange for money, drugs, food, shelter, or other things.
  
Here are definitions of key concepts:
+
'''Emotional abuse''' is when a child suffers serious anxiety, depression, or withdrawal, or shows self-destructive or aggressive behavior, due to persistent abusive actions by a parent. Emotional abuse can include blaming, rejecting, threatening, insulting, ignoring, or humiliating a child. Emotional harm can also happen to children who see violence in their homes.
  
* '''Physical abuse''' means any physical force or action by a parent or adult which could injure a child and exceeds “reasonable discipline.”
+
'''Neglect''' is when a parent fails to look after the child’s basic physical, emotional, or medical needs. This, in turn, endangers the child’s health, development, or safety.
* '''Sexual abuse''' means any sexual touching or intercourse between a child and an older person, or using a child for sexual purposes.
 
* '''Sexual exploitation''' is a form of sexual abuse that occurs when a child engages in sexual activity, usually through manipulation or coercion, in exchange for money, drugs, food, shelter or other things.
 
* '''Emotional harm''' is when a child has serious anxiety, depression, withdrawal or self-destructive or aggressive behaviors due to persistent emotional abuse by a parent. This can include scapegoating, blaming, rejection, threats, insults or humiliation. Emotional harm can also happen to children who witness violence in their homes.
 
* '''Neglect''' is when a parent fails to look after the physical, emotional or medical needs of a child, endangering the child’s health, development or safety.
 
  
===If you have reason to believe a child is being abused===
+
===You have a legal duty to report child abuse===
If you have reason to believe a child has been or is likely to be abused or neglected, [https://www.canlii.org/en/bc/laws/stat/rsbc-1996-c-46/latest/rsbc-1996-c-46.html#sec14_smooth the law in BC] requires you to report your concerns to a child welfare worker. '''Reason to believe''' means you suspect a child could be at risk, based on what you have seen or information you have. You do not need proof. Just report what you know.
+
If you have '''reason to believe''' a child has been, or is likely to be, abused or neglected, you have a [https://www.canlii.org/en/bc/laws/stat/rsbc-1996-c-46/latest/rsbc-1996-c-46.html#sec14_smooth legal obligation] to report your concern. You can [https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/safety/public-safety/protecting-children/reporting-child-abuse contact the Ministry of Children and Family Development] if you suspect a child could be at risk. You don’t need proof. You just need “reason to believe,based on what you’ve seen or some information you have. Report what you know.
  
It doesn’t matter if you think someone else is reporting the situation or if a child welfare worker is already involved with the child — you must still make a report. It also doesn’t matter who the suspected abuser is. They could be a family member, your neighbour, or a member of your church or temple. They could be a patient or client. They could be your boss or your employee. Your duty to report your concerns takes priority over any confidentiality or privilege that might apply to your relationship with the suspected abuser.
+
Don’t assume someone else already reported it. Even if a child protection worker is already on the case, you '''must''' still make a report. It also doesn’t matter who the suspected abuser is. They could be a family member, neighbour, or member of your church or temple. They could be a patient or client. They could be your boss or your employee. Your duty to report your concerns takes priority over any confidentiality or privilege that might apply to your relationship with the suspected abuser.
  
It is an offence not to report suspicions of abuse or neglect. The only exception is for a lawyer who may have concerns that involve their client.
+
If you don’t report your concerns about abuse or neglect, you’re actually breaking [https://www.canlii.org/en/bc/laws/stat/rsbc-1996-c-46/latest/rsbc-1996-c-46.html#sec14_smooth the law].
  
 
{| class="wikitable"
 
{| class="wikitable"
 
|align="left"|'''Tip'''
 
|align="left"|'''Tip'''
[https://www.canlii.org/en/bc/laws/stat/rsbc-1996-c-46/latest/rsbc-1996-c-46.html#sec14_smooth The law] protects you from being sued or prosecuted for reporting a suspected abuser. The exception is if you knowingly report false information.
+
[https://www.canlii.org/en/bc/laws/stat/rsbc-1996-c-46/latest/rsbc-1996-c-46.html#sec14_smooth The law] protects you from being sued or prosecuted for reporting a suspected abuser. But your concerns must be genuine. The law ''does not'' protect you if you '''knowingly''' report false information, such as saying that someone has abused a child when they haven’t.
 
|}
 
|}
  
 
===How you make a report of child abuse===
 
===How you make a report of child abuse===
If a child is in immediate danger, '''call the police by dialing 9-1-1'''. A child welfare worker will determine whether the child is in need of protection.
+
If you know a child (or are a child) who is in '''immediate''' danger, '''call the police by dialing 9-1-1''' to be connected to emergency services. They will decide the next steps.  
  
If there is no immediate danger, you can report child abuse in one of two ways:
+
If there’s no immediate danger, you can report child abuse in one of two ways:
  
# Phone the Ministry of Children and Family Development’s screening line at 1-800-663-9122 at any time of the day or night. The team answering these calls assesses child protection reports and initial requests for Ministry service across the province, 24 hours a day.
+
* Phone the Ministry of Children and Family Development’s [https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/safety/public-safety/protecting-children/reporting-child-abuse provincial screening] line at 1-800-663-9122 at '''any time''' of the day or night. The team answering these calls assesses child protection reports and initial requests for ministry services across the province.
# Call a Ministry of Children and Family Development office in your area. The Ministry’s offices are listed in the provincial government blue pages of the phone book. [https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/governments/organizational-structure/ministries-organizations/ministries/children-and-family-development/ministry-contact The offices are also listed on the Ministry website].
+
* Call a Ministry of Children and Family Development office in your area. The ministry's offices are listed on the [https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/governments/organizational-structure/ministries-organizations/ministries/children-and-family-development/ministry-contact ministry website].
  
 
===If you make a report of child abuse===
 
===If you make a report of child abuse===
The report you make to the Ministry of Children and Family Development will be taken by a child welfare worker. The worker will want as much information as possible from you, including the name and address of the child, the parents, anyone else involved, and the reasons why you think the child has been or is likely to be abused or neglected.
+
A child protection worker will take your report to the Ministry of Children and Family Development. The worker will want as much information as possible from you, including:
 +
 
 +
* the name and address of the child, the parents, and anyone else involved, and,
 +
* the reasons you suspect abuse or neglect.
  
====You do not need to identify yourself====
+
====You don't need to identify yourself====
But it is helpful for the child welfare worker to have your name. Unless a criminal court hearing results from criminal charges being laid by police and you’re needed as a witness, your name will remain confidential. (However, it is always possible your identity may become known as a result of the details of the information you provide.)
+
It’s helpful for the child protection worker to have your name. But you don’t have to give it. Unless you’re needed as a witness in a court hearing after criminal charges have been laid by police, your name will stay confidential. (However, it’s always possible your identity may become known as a result of the details of the information you provide.)
  
====Child welfare’s response====
+
====After you make a report====
The child welfare worker will assess the information you provide. They will decide on the best way to keep the child safe. They may decide to:
+
The child protection worker will assess the information you provide. They’ll decide on the best way to keep the child safe. They may opt to:
  
 
* take no further action
 
* take no further action
 
* refer the family to support services
 
* refer the family to support services
* use a family development response
+
* use a “family development response”
 
* conduct an investigation
 
* conduct an investigation
  
In a '''family development response''', child welfare works out a plan with the family to strengthen the family’s ability to help keep the child safe. It may be used for less serious allegations of abuse or neglect. It is an intensive, time-limited, supportive approach. It involves an assessment of the family’s strengths and problem areas, and providing support services to help the family while monitoring the child’s safety.
+
In a '''family development response''', a child protection worker makes a plan with the family to strengthen the family’s ability to help keep the child safe. The plan may be used for less serious allegations of abuse or neglect. It’s an intensive, time-limited, supportive approach. It involves an assessment of the family’s strengths and problem areas. It also provides support services to help the family while monitoring the child’s safety.
  
===Child welfare may decide to conduct an investigation===
+
===Child protection may decide to conduct an investigation===
If you report allegations of serious abuse or neglect, the child welfare worker may decide to conduct a '''child abuse investigation'''. This involves seeing and talking to the child and people who know the child, such as parents, extended family, a teacher, doctor or child-care provider. If the child is Aboriginal, their band or community may also be involved.
+
The allegations of abuse or neglect you report may be serious. In that case, the director under the ''Child, Family and Community Service Act'' may decide to conduct a '''child abuse investigation'''. This may involve a child protection worker seeing and talking to the child and people who know the child. These may include talking to parents, extended family, a teacher, doctor, or childcare provider. If the child is Indigenous, their band or community may also be involved.
  
If the allegations involve physical or sexual abuse, the child welfare worker will also advise the police, who may conduct their own investigation as well.
+
If there are physical- or sexual-abuse allegations, the child protection worker will tell the police, who may conduct their own investigation as well.
  
The investigation of abuse cases is sensitive to the feelings of children. Whenever possible, the Ministry of Children and Family Development and the police conduct a joint investigation to reduce the number of interviews and the anxiety felt by a child involved in the process.
+
Children’s feelings are considered when child abuse is being investigated. Whenever possible, the Ministry of Children and Family Development and the police conduct a joint investigation to reduce the number of interviews and the anxiety felt by a child involved in the process.
  
 
==Common questions==
 
==Common questions==
  
 
===Will the child be removed from the home?===
 
===Will the child be removed from the home?===
Children can only be removed from their homes if nothing less disruptive will protect them. If a child is in danger of continued abuse or neglect and there are no other ways of keeping the child safe, the child may be taken into the care of the Ministry of Children and Family Development. Alternatively, the child may be placed with a relative or other person who has a significant relationship with the child. If a child is removed from their home, a court process starts. For more detail, [[Child Protection and Removal|see our information on child protection and removal]].
+
Child protection workers may remove children from their homes. Children may be taken into the care of the Ministry of Children and Family Development if:
 +
 
 +
* that’s the least intrusive option that will protect them
 +
* a child is in danger of continued abuse or neglect and there are no other ways of keeping them safe
 +
 
 +
Another option is for the ministry to place the child with a relative or other person who has a significant relationship with them.
 +
 
 +
If a child is removed from their home without the parents’ agreement, a court process starts. For details, [[Child Protection and Removal|see our information on child protection and removal]].
  
 
===What about criminal charges?===
 
===What about criminal charges?===
If the police determine that a criminal offence has been committed, they may decide to recommend criminal charges against the abuser that will result in criminal court hearings. The prosecutor works with the police and the Ministry of Children and Family Development in alleged child abuse cases to make the court experience less upsetting for a child.
+
If the police find evidence that a crime has been committed, they can recommend criminal charges against the abuser. This will result in criminal court hearings. In such cases, Crown counsel (the lawyer for the government) may be in touch with the police and the child protection authorities to make the court experience less upsetting for a child.
 +
 
 +
===What could happen in a family court proceeding?===
 +
Under the provincial ''Family Law Act'' and the federal ''Divorce Act'', family violence, which includes child abuse, is a factor for the court to consider when making decisions about what’s best for a child. The court must also take into account whether the child was directly or indirectly exposed to other family violence in the home.
 +
 
 +
If there has been violence by a family member, the suspected abuser may:
  
===What if there is a family court proceeding?===
+
* not be granted time with a child, 
Under the provincial ''Family Law Act'', family violence, which includes child abuse, is a factor the court must consider when making decisions about children. The court must also consider whether the child was directly or indirectly exposed to other family violence in the home.
+
* be given limited time, or 
 +
* be given time with a child on conditions, such as supervision.  
  
The presence of family violence may result in the suspected abuser having limited or no time with a child, or having time with the child on conditions such as supervision. It is also possible to ask the court for a '''protection order''' to protect the well being of the child and limit the child’s time with or exposure to the suspected abuser. Anyone can apply for a protection order on behalf of someone they believe is at risk of family violence. For more on protection orders, [[Family Violence (No. 155)|see our information on family violence]].
+
It’s also possible that a court could grant a '''protection order''' against the suspected abuser. This kind of order helps protect the well-being of someone at risk of family violence, including a child. It typically prevents the suspected abuser from contacting the child. The other parent can apply for a protection order on behalf of their child who they believe is at risk of family violence. For more on protection orders, [[Family Violence (No. 155)|see our information on family violence]].
  
 
==Who can help==
 
==Who can help==
  
===For victims of abuse===
+
===If you are a victim of abuse===
Children who would like to talk to someone can call the '''Helpline for Children'''. This confidential service operates at any time of the day or night.
+
A child (anyone under 19 years old) who would like to talk to someone about their situation can call the '''Helpline for Children'''. This confidential service operates 24 hours a day
 +
 
 +
* Call 310-1234 (toll-free)
 +
 
 +
A child can also call or text the '''Kids Help Phone''', another confidential service that operates 24/7.  
  
* Call 310-1234
+
* Call 1-800-668-6868 (toll-free)
 +
* Text CONNECT to 686868
 +
* [https://kidshelpphone.ca/ Visit website]
  
If you or someone you know has been a victim of child abuse, there may be an organization in your community that can provide help and support. If you don’t know who to contact, call the 24-hour helpline at '''Victim Link BC'''.
+
If you or someone you know has been a victim of child abuse, there may be an organization in your community that can provide help and support. If you don’t know who to contact, call the 24-hour helpline at '''VictimLinkBC'''.
  
 
* Call 1-800-563-0808 (toll-free)
 
* Call 1-800-563-0808 (toll-free)
Line 84: Line 119:
  
 
===With more information===
 
===With more information===
See the '''Ministry of Children and Family Development'''‘s booklet [https://www2.gov.bc.ca/assets/gov/public-safety-and-emergency-services/public-safety/protecting-children/childabusepreventionhandbook_generalpublicbooklet.pdf ''Responding to Child Welfare Concerns: Your Role in Knowing When and What to Report''].
+
The '''Ministry of Children and Family Development''' has information on their website about keeping kids safe. They also have a booklet [http://www2.gov.bc.ca/assets/gov/public-safety-and-emergency-services/public-safety/protecting-children/childabusepreventionhandbook_generalpublicbooklet.pdf ''Responding to Child Welfare Concerns: Your Role in Knowing When and What to Report''].
  
* [https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/safety/public-safety/protecting-children Visit website]
+
* [https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/safety/public-safety/protecting-children/keeping-kids-safe Visit website]  
  
The '''Representative for Children and Youth''' advocates for and supports children and youth, seeking to protect their rights and make the child protection system more responsive.
+
The '''Representative for Children and Youth''' advocates for and supports children and youth. It works to protect their rights and make the child protection system more responsive.  
  
 
* Call 1-800-476-3933 (toll-free)
 
* Call 1-800-476-3933 (toll-free)

Revision as of 21:27, 28 April 2021

This information applies to British Columbia, Canada. Last reviewed for legal accuracy by Christine Churcher, Churcher Law in April 2020.

The law protects children from physical and sexual abuse, as well as neglect. Learn how child protection laws work and what to do if you think a child is being abused.

Alert!

This information has been updated to reflect changes to the Divorce Act that took effect on March 1, 2021.

What you should know

How abuse and the neglect of children are defined

Protecting children is one of society’s greatest responsibilities. There are criminal and civil laws that apply to everyone. There’s also a provincial law that aims to protect children from neglect and sexual and physical abuse. This law defines a child as any person under 19 years of age.

Here are some key terms.

Physical abuse means any action or physical force by a parent or adult that could or does hurt a child. It includes:

  • hitting, slapping, pushing, shaking, and choking
  • locking a child in a room or out of the house
  • using unreasonable force to discipline a child

Sexual abuse means any sexual touching or intercourse between a child and an older person, or using a child for sexual purposes. It also includes making a child watch sexual acts.

Sexual exploitation is a form of sexual abuse that occurs when a child is persuaded to engage in sexual or sexualized activity. Usually this happens through manipulation or coercion, in exchange for money, drugs, food, shelter, or other things.

Emotional abuse is when a child suffers serious anxiety, depression, or withdrawal, or shows self-destructive or aggressive behavior, due to persistent abusive actions by a parent. Emotional abuse can include blaming, rejecting, threatening, insulting, ignoring, or humiliating a child. Emotional harm can also happen to children who see violence in their homes.

Neglect is when a parent fails to look after the child’s basic physical, emotional, or medical needs. This, in turn, endangers the child’s health, development, or safety.

You have a legal duty to report child abuse

If you have reason to believe a child has been, or is likely to be, abused or neglected, you have a legal obligation to report your concern. You can contact the Ministry of Children and Family Development if you suspect a child could be at risk. You don’t need proof. You just need “reason to believe,” based on what you’ve seen or some information you have. Report what you know.

Don’t assume someone else already reported it. Even if a child protection worker is already on the case, you must still make a report. It also doesn’t matter who the suspected abuser is. They could be a family member, neighbour, or member of your church or temple. They could be a patient or client. They could be your boss or your employee. Your duty to report your concerns takes priority over any confidentiality or privilege that might apply to your relationship with the suspected abuser.

If you don’t report your concerns about abuse or neglect, you’re actually breaking the law.

Tip

The law protects you from being sued or prosecuted for reporting a suspected abuser. But your concerns must be genuine. The law does not protect you if you knowingly report false information, such as saying that someone has abused a child when they haven’t.

How you make a report of child abuse

If you know a child (or are a child) who is in immediate danger, call the police by dialing 9-1-1 to be connected to emergency services. They will decide the next steps.

If there’s no immediate danger, you can report child abuse in one of two ways:

  • Phone the Ministry of Children and Family Development’s provincial screening line at 1-800-663-9122 at any time of the day or night. The team answering these calls assesses child protection reports and initial requests for ministry services across the province.
  • Call a Ministry of Children and Family Development office in your area. The ministry's offices are listed on the ministry website.

If you make a report of child abuse

A child protection worker will take your report to the Ministry of Children and Family Development. The worker will want as much information as possible from you, including:

  • the name and address of the child, the parents, and anyone else involved, and,
  • the reasons you suspect abuse or neglect.

You don't need to identify yourself

It’s helpful for the child protection worker to have your name. But you don’t have to give it. Unless you’re needed as a witness in a court hearing after criminal charges have been laid by police, your name will stay confidential. (However, it’s always possible your identity may become known as a result of the details of the information you provide.)

After you make a report

The child protection worker will assess the information you provide. They’ll decide on the best way to keep the child safe. They may opt to:

  • take no further action
  • refer the family to support services
  • use a “family development response”
  • conduct an investigation

In a family development response, a child protection worker makes a plan with the family to strengthen the family’s ability to help keep the child safe. The plan may be used for less serious allegations of abuse or neglect. It’s an intensive, time-limited, supportive approach. It involves an assessment of the family’s strengths and problem areas. It also provides support services to help the family while monitoring the child’s safety.

Child protection may decide to conduct an investigation

The allegations of abuse or neglect you report may be serious. In that case, the director under the Child, Family and Community Service Act may decide to conduct a child abuse investigation. This may involve a child protection worker seeing and talking to the child and people who know the child. These may include talking to parents, extended family, a teacher, doctor, or childcare provider. If the child is Indigenous, their band or community may also be involved.

If there are physical- or sexual-abuse allegations, the child protection worker will tell the police, who may conduct their own investigation as well.

Children’s feelings are considered when child abuse is being investigated. Whenever possible, the Ministry of Children and Family Development and the police conduct a joint investigation to reduce the number of interviews and the anxiety felt by a child involved in the process.

Common questions

Will the child be removed from the home?

Child protection workers may remove children from their homes. Children may be taken into the care of the Ministry of Children and Family Development if:

  • that’s the least intrusive option that will protect them
  • a child is in danger of continued abuse or neglect and there are no other ways of keeping them safe

Another option is for the ministry to place the child with a relative or other person who has a significant relationship with them.

If a child is removed from their home without the parents’ agreement, a court process starts. For details, see our information on child protection and removal.

What about criminal charges?

If the police find evidence that a crime has been committed, they can recommend criminal charges against the abuser. This will result in criminal court hearings. In such cases, Crown counsel (the lawyer for the government) may be in touch with the police and the child protection authorities to make the court experience less upsetting for a child.

What could happen in a family court proceeding?

Under the provincial Family Law Act and the federal Divorce Act, family violence, which includes child abuse, is a factor for the court to consider when making decisions about what’s best for a child. The court must also take into account whether the child was directly or indirectly exposed to other family violence in the home.

If there has been violence by a family member, the suspected abuser may:

  • not be granted time with a child,
  • be given limited time, or
  • be given time with a child on conditions, such as supervision.

It’s also possible that a court could grant a protection order against the suspected abuser. This kind of order helps protect the well-being of someone at risk of family violence, including a child. It typically prevents the suspected abuser from contacting the child. The other parent can apply for a protection order on behalf of their child who they believe is at risk of family violence. For more on protection orders, see our information on family violence.

Who can help

If you are a victim of abuse

A child (anyone under 19 years old) who would like to talk to someone about their situation can call the Helpline for Children. This confidential service operates 24 hours a day.

  • Call 310-1234 (toll-free)

A child can also call or text the Kids Help Phone, another confidential service that operates 24/7.

  • Call 1-800-668-6868 (toll-free)
  • Text CONNECT to 686868
  • Visit website

If you or someone you know has been a victim of child abuse, there may be an organization in your community that can provide help and support. If you don’t know who to contact, call the 24-hour helpline at VictimLinkBC.

With more information

The Ministry of Children and Family Development has information on their website about keeping kids safe. They also have a booklet Responding to Child Welfare Concerns: Your Role in Knowing When and What to Report.

The Representative for Children and Youth advocates for and supports children and youth. It works to protect their rights and make the child protection system more responsive.

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