Difference between revisions of "Reporting Suspected Child Abuse"

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{{REVIEWEDPLS | reviewer = [https://churcherlaw.com/ Christine Churcher], Churcher Law|date= April 2020}} {{Dial-A-Law TOC|expanded = children}}
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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.
  
{{Dial-A-Law TOC|expanded = family}}
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{| class="wikitable"
==The protection of children is considered one of society’s greatest obligations==
+
|align="left"|'''Alert!'''
In addition to the normal rules of criminal and civil law that apply to everyone, there’s also specific provincial legislation called the ''Child, Family and Community Service Act'', which is intended to protect children from sexual and physical abuse and from neglect. The Act defines a “child” as any person under 19 years of age.
+
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.
 +
|}
  
==How is abuse and the neglect of children defined?==
+
==What you should know==
The law defines these things as follows:
 
*'''Physical abuse''':  This means any physical force or action by a parent or adult which could injure a child and which exceeds “reasonable discipline”.
 
*'''Sexual abuse''':  This means any sexual touching or intercourse between a child and an older person, or using a child for sexual purposes.
 
*'''Sexual exploitation''': This 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 and other things.
 
*'''Emotional harm''': This is defined as a child having serious anxiety, depression, withdrawal or self-destructive/aggressive behaviors due to persistent emotional abuse by a parent, such as scapegoating, blaming, rejection, threats, insults or humiliation. Emotional harm can also happen to children who witness violence in their homes.
 
*'''Neglect''': This means a parent failing to look after the physical, emotional or medical needs of a child, so that the child’s health, development or safety is endangered.
 
  
==You must report suspected child abuse or neglect==
+
===How abuse and neglect of children are defined===
If you have reason to believe that a child has been or is likely to be abused or neglected or is in need of protection, section 14 of the ''Child, Family and Community Service Act'' requires you to report your concerns to the Ministry of Children and Family Development. “Reason to believe” means that you suspect that 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.
+
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'''.
  
It does not 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 does not matter if the suspected abuser is your neighbour, patient or family member, a member of your church, temple, mosque or synagogue, your manager or employer, or someone else altogether. Your duty to report your suspicions takes priority over any confidentiality or privilege that might apply to your relationship with the suspected abuser.  
+
Here are some key terms.
  
It is a provincial offence not to report suspicions of abuse or neglect. The only exception is for a lawyer who may have concerns that involve his or her client.
+
'''Physical abuse''' means any action or physical force by a parent or adult that could or does hurt a child. It includes:
  
==You will not be sued or prosecuted for reporting your suspicions==
+
* hitting, slapping, pushing, shaking, and choking
The ''Child, Family and Community Service Act'' protects you from being sued or prosecuted for reporting a suspected abuser. This assumes, of course, that you are acting in good faith and honestly believe your concerns are true when you make your report.
+
* locking a child in a room or out of the house
 +
* using unreasonable force to discipline a child
  
==How do you make a report?==
+
'''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.
You may make a report by calling either of the following:
 
*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. The Ministry’s offices are also listed on their website at [http://www.mcf.gov.bc.ca/sda/contacts.htm www.mcf.gov.bc.ca/sda/contacts.htm].
 
*The 24-hour toll free Children’s Help Line for reporting suspected abuse. Dial 310.1234 anywhere in BC. You do not need to dial an area code.
 
  
==If a child is in immediate danger, call the police==
+
'''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.
Dial 911 for the operator and ask for police assistance.
 
  
==What happens when you make a report?==
+
'''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.
The report that you make to the Ministry will be taken by a social worker. The social 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 that the child has been or will be abused or neglected.
 
  
==You do not have to give your name when you make a report==
+
'''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.
But it is helpful for the social 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, even if your name isn’t released, your identity may become known as a result of the details of the information you provide.
 
  
==The social worker will look into the matter==
+
===You have a legal duty to report child abuse===
The social worker will assess the information that you provide and determine the most appropriate response to ensure the child’s safety and well-being and to help the family care safely for the child. The responses can include:
+
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.
*Taking no further action.
 
*Referring the family to support services.
 
*Where concerns for the safety of the child exist, providing a “family development response” or conducting an investigation.
 
  
==What is a family development response?==
+
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.
A family development response may be provided for less serious allegations of abuse or neglect when the child’s parents will work cooperatively with the social worker. This response involves an intensive, time-limited, supportive approach. It consists of an assessment of the family’s strengths and problem areas, and the provision of support services to help the family while monitoring the child’s safety.
 
  
==When is a child abuse investigation done?==
+
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].
If you report allegations of serious abuse or neglect, the social worker may decide to conduct a child abuse investigation. If the allegations involve physical or sexual abuse, the social worker will also advise the police, who may conduct their own investigation as well.
 
  
The investigation and prosecution 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.
+
{| class="wikitable"
 +
|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. 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.
 +
|}
  
==Will the child be removed from the home?==
+
===How you make a report of child abuse===
If the child is in danger of continued abuse or neglect during or at the end of an investigation and there are no other ways of keeping the child safe, the child may be taken into the care of the Ministry or placed with a  relative or other person who has a significant relationship with the child.
+
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.  
  
==What about criminal charges?==
+
If there’s no immediate danger, you can report child abuse in one of two ways:
If the police determine that a criminal offence has been committed, they may decide to lay criminal charges against the abuser that will result in criminal court hearings. The prosecutor works with the police and the Ministry in alleged child abuse cases to make the court experience less upsetting for a child.
 
  
==What if there is a family law court proceeding?==
+
* 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.
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.
+
* 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].
  
The presence of family violence may result in the suspected abuser have 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 he or she believes is at risk of family violence.
+
===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:
  
==Is there help for victims of child abuse?==
+
* the name and address of the child, the parents, and anyone else involved, and,  
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 toll-free Victims Information Line at 1.800.563.0808.
+
* the reasons you suspect abuse or neglect.
  
==Where can you find more information?==
+
====You don't need to identify yourself====
*See the link on “Protecting Children” on the Ministry of Children and Family Development’s website at [http://www.mcf.gov.bc.ca www.mcf.gov.bc.ca]. Specifically, refer to the Ministry’s booklet entitled [http://www.mcf.gov.bc.ca/child_protection/pdf/child_welfare_your_role.pdf "Responding to Child Welfare Concerns: Your Role in Knowing When and What to Report"].
+
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.)
*For more information on child removal, refer to script [[Child Protection and Removal (Script 141)|141]] called “Child Protection and Removal”.
 
  
 +
====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:
  
[updated August 2017]
+
* take no further action
 +
* refer the family to support services
 +
* use a “family development response”
 +
* conduct an investigation
  
'''The above was last reviewed for accuracy by Thomas E. Wallwork.'''
+
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, [[Child Protection and Removal|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, [[Family Violence (No. 155)|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
 +
* [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 '''VictimLinkBC'''.
 +
 +
* Call 1-800-563-0808 (toll-free)
 +
* [https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/justice/criminal-justice/victims-of-crime/victimlinkbc Visit website]
 +
 +
===With more information===
 +
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/keeping-kids-safe Visit website]
 +
 +
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)
 +
* [https://rcybc.ca/ Visit website]
 +
 +
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{{Dial-A-Law Copyright}}
 
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Latest revision as of 20:36, 12 May 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 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.

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International Licence Dial-A-Law © People's Law School is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution - NonCommercial - ShareAlike 4.0 International Licence.


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