What is Child Abuse?

Anyone who suspects that a child is or may be in need of protection should contact a children's aid society immediately.

We all share a responsibility to protect children from harm – a responsibility that extends to those situations where children suffer abuse and neglect in their own homes. Ontario’s Child and Family Services Act (CFSA) provides for protection for these children. Section 72. of the Act states that members of the public, including professionals who work with children, must promptly report any suspicions that a child is or may be in need of protection to a children's aid society. The Act defines the phrase "child in need of protection" and sets out what must be reported to a children’s aid society. This definition is set out in detail on the following pages. It includes physical, sexual and emotional abuse, neglect, and risk of harm. This brochure explains the "duty to report" section of the Child and Family Services Act and answers common questions about your reporting responsibilities. It also reprints relevant portions of Section 72. for your convenience. It does not provide specific legal advice. Please consult a lawyer or a children's aid society about any specific situation.

How do I identify a child in need of protection?

The Child and Family Services Act defines a child in need of protection as a child who is or who appears to be suffering from abuse and/or neglect. The Act clearly specifies how you can identify these children in Section 72. (1). (See pages 7 and 8). [CFSA s.72.(1)]

Who is responsible for reporting a child in need of protection?

 

Anyone who has reasonable grounds to suspect that a child is or may be in need of protection must promptly report the suspicion and the information upon which it is based to a children’s aid society. Section 72. (1) describes the specific circumstances that must be reported (See pages 7 and 8). [CFSA s.72.(1)]

What are "reasonable grounds" to suspect child abuse or neglect?

 

It is not necessary for you to be certain a child is or may be in need of protection to make a report to a children's aid society. "Reasonable grounds" refers to the information that an average person, exercising normal and honest judgment, would need in order to make a decision to report.

What does the Act mean when it says a person has an "ongoing duty to report" child abuse or neglect?

Even if a report has already been made about a child, you must make a further report to the children's aid society if there are additional reasonable grounds to suspect that the child is or may be in need of protection. [CFSA s.72.(2)]

Can I rely on someone else to report?

No. You have to report directly to a children's aid society. You must not rely on anyone else to report on your behalf. [CFSA s.72.(3)]

Do professionals and officials have any special responsibilities to report?

Professionals and officials have the same duty as any other member of the public to report their suspicion that a child is in need of protection. However, the Act recognizes that people working closely with children have a special awareness of the signs of child abuse and neglect, and a particular responsibility to report their suspicions. Any professional or official who fails to report a suspicion that a child is or may be in need of protection is liable on conviction to a fine of up to $1,000, if they obtained the information on which that suspicion is based in the course of their professional or official duties. [CFSA s.72.(4), (6.2)]

Who does the Act consider a person who performs professional or official duties?

People who perform professional or official duties with respect to children include:
 

  • health care professionals, including 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 day nurseries;
  • youth and recreation workers (not volunteers);
  • peace officers and coroners;
  • solicitors;
  • service providers and employees of service providers; and
  • any other person who performs professional or official duties with respect to a child.

These are examples only. A person not listed above who does work that involves children may still be considered to perform professional or official duties under the duty to report requirements of the Act.

If you are unsure whether you are considered to be a professional with the duty to report, ask your local children's aid society, professional association or regulatory body. [CFSA s.72.(5)] 

What about professional confidentiality?

A professional must report that a child is or may be in need of protection, even when the information is otherwise confidential or privileged. This duty overrides the provisions of any other provincial statute, and specifically overrides any provisions that would otherwise prohibit someone from making a disclosure. Only solicitors may not divulge "privileged" information about their clients. [CFSA s.72.(7),(8)]

Will I be protected from liability if I make a report?

Yes. If a civil action is brought against you for making a report, you will be protected unless you acted maliciously or without reasonable grounds for the suspicion. [CFSA s. 72.(7)]

What happens when I call a children's aid society?

The children's aid society will investigate the information you provide. Children's aid society workers have the responsibility and the authority to investigate allegations and to protect children. The workers may, as part of the investigation and plan to protect a child, involve the police and other community agencies. All children's aid societies provide emergency service 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

How do I contact a children's aid society or get more information?

You can find your local children’s aid society in the telephone book. In some communities, the children’s aid society is known as "family and children's services" or "child and family services."

If you do not have a telephone book, call the operator and ask to be connected either to your local children’s aid society, or to the police, who can immediately put you in touch with your local children’s aid society.

You can also find the address and telephone number of Ontario's 53 children’s aid societies at OACAS, the website of the Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies.

Anyone who suspects that a child is or may be in need of protection should contact a children's aid society immediately.

What is the age of the children to whom the "duty to report" applies?

The duty to report applies to any child who is, or appears to be, under the age of 16 years. It also applies to children subject to a child protection order who are 16 and 17 years old.