RECEs have an immediate duty to report to a Children’s Aid Society (CAS) if they have reasonable grounds to suspect that a child has been harmed or is at risk of harm or injury. This is outlined under section 125 of the Child, Youth and Family Services Act, 2017 (CYFSA).
In the last issue of Connexions, we introduced the revised Professional Advisory: Duty to Report along with the updated Reflection Guide on Duty to Report. Reviewing these resources is essential to your practice as they provide information and guidance in relation to your obligation to report.
Who is a child in need of protection?
A child in need of protection is a child who is or is at risk of suffering from abuse (i.e., physical, emotional, sexual), neglect and/or family violence. As RECE, you’re in a unique position to recognize possible signs of child abuse, neglect and family violence, and have a duty to report your concerns.
However, factors related to child abuse and neglect can be complex. Not all signs or indicators of a child in need of protection will be obvious. This is where your knowledge of and relationship with the child and family, your beliefs, biases and experiences, as well as your professional judgment and ethical decision-making will all be important considerations. Review pages 19 -21 in the professional advisory for more information.
What are reasonable grounds?
Reasonable grounds refers to the information that an average person, using normal and honest judgment, would need in order to decide to report (Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies). Determining whether you have reasonable grounds also involves using your professional judgment and ethical decision-making. For more information review pages 6 – 7 in the professional advisory.
It’s important to know that if you’re unsure whether you have reasonable grounds or if your concern(s) should be reported, you can and should contact a CAS to gain more information about the situation. Know that you can contact CAS for a consult at any time, not only to report.
Who do I tell first: CAS or my supervisor?
Your obligation is to immediately report your concerns to a Children’s Aid Society. Although you may choose to speak with your supervisor or employer before contacting a CAS, you are not required to do so. If you do speak with your employer about the matter, this does not remove your responsibility to contact a CAS to make a report. Ultimately, your supervisor or employer cannot stop you from reporting to CAS if you have a concern that a child may be or is in need of protection, as this would be an offence under the CYFSA.
Are you reflecting on your beliefs and biases?
Research indicates that professionals overreport families based on harmful stereotypes around racial identities. First Nations, Métis, Inuit and Black children and families are overrepresented in child welfare due to systemic racism.
Everyone has beliefs and biases, and they operate consciously and unconsciously, influencing how people perceive themselves, others and society. When considering whether you have reasonable grounds to suspect abuse or neglect you are responsible for thinking about what may have led you to suspect a particular child and family was at risk, including whether beliefs, bias or harmful stereotypes may be influencing your assumptions.
For more on this topic, consult the College’s resource on Racism and Bias in Reporting to Child Welfare.
How can you care for yourself after reporting to CAS?
Whether you’re calling a CAS for information about your concerns or making a report, the experience can be stressful, anxiety-provoking and isolating.
Below are some strategies to ensure you’re caring for yourself:
- Remind yourself that you’ve acted in the best interest of the child in reporting your concerns and that the responsibility of establishing whether there is abuse or neglect belongs to the CAS, not you.
- If you’re able to, take some time after you’ve made the call to clear your head (e.g., go outside for some fresh air, take a short walk or break from work).
- Making a report can be emotionally, mentally or physically distressing and/or have an emotional impact that you may not notice right away. Consider debriefing with your supervisor or a colleague while keeping in mind confidentiality (e.g., not sharing specific information related to the report). It’s important to take the time to be kind to yourself.
- Understand that the feelings associated with reporting may last longer than just one day. RECEs are caring professionals – taking care of yourself and noticing when you may need help is important.
For additional guidance on maintaining a positive relationship with the family and/or colleague who was reported, see pages 23 – 24 in the professional advisory.
Make it part of your CPL learning goal
To deepen your understanding and application of this important responsibility as an RECE, you could make it your goal for your next CPL Portfolio Cycle. The professional advisory and related Reflection Guide on Duty to Report provide you with the activities (i.e., information, scenarios, questions for reflection and discussion, links to additional resources) to support your learning, which you can then document in your record of professional learning.