How does reporting to child welfare authorities work in Ontario?
January 19, 2012 6:51 PM   Subscribe

Question about reporting a family to child protection services in Ontario.

I am a teacher in Ontario and I suspect that a student I teach requires intervention from child protection support. I understand that I am a 'mandatory reporter' and if I believe there is abuse, I must report it. But I am unsure if the behaviour I am witnessing constitutes reportable offenses. There is some emotional/psychological stuff (we believe the mother has some mental health issues) and we are fairly sure there is some potentially unhealthy hoarding behaviours present in the home. Other than that, the main issue seems to be hygiene (the child is never bathed or has hair brushed, emits a strong odour etc.) and diet (nothing but junk food, the child has gained an alarming amount of weight since she began school). Other than that though, it is stuff that one might interpret as just parenting choices e.g. the mother has many phobias she has passed onto the child, the mother sabotages friendships the child has tried to form with other children. Upsetting, yes, but reportable?

I am also unclear as to how the reporting process works. Would they potentially leave the child in the home and give the parents some support to address the problems? They are not outright 'abusing' her in the classic child abuse sense. Perhaps they just need some education or support themselves? It would be very traumatizing to the child to be removed if the situation did not warrant it.

I spoke with my principal and she pretty much passed the buck, said she was aware of the issues and has been keeping a 'file' (which suggests to me that the thought of reporting has at least crossed her mind). She also said she could see why some of us were concerned and to just remember that reporting something like this is very tough and a hard decision and was up to me. I guess I was expected a more ringing endorsement and/or support either way...

So, are these reportable things? Any suggestions or advice you can give me? Anon due to sensitive nature of question.
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (14 answers total)
Yes yes yes, please report your suspicions. It's not your job to determine whether abuse or neglect is actually happening. That's what Children's Aid (or whatever the agency is called) does. You report only that you suspect abuse or neglect may be happening, which you clearly do.
posted by thirteenkiller at 7:12 PM on January 19, 2012 [4 favorites]

I don't know about Ontario specifically, but I reported abuse in Nova Scotia of a minor when I was a camp counselor. I was told the child wouldn't be taken out of the home if the parents could comply with social services' requirements, which were things like, her alcoholic dad had to stop drinking and hitting his kids. I got the impression that it was possible, but difficult, to keep your kids in the home throughout the whole process.

I am surprised your principal discouraged you from reporting. We were told that it was best to report and let social services decide, than try to guess what was really happening at home, as non-experts.
posted by joannemerriam at 7:12 PM on January 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

And shame on your principal for not being a leader on this. Good grief.
posted by thirteenkiller at 7:13 PM on January 19, 2012 [3 favorites]

I think it is very reasonable to report by saying that you suspect neglect, based on the child's hygiene and snacks/lunch, and that you worry the home is unsafe due to hoarding patterns.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 7:16 PM on January 19, 2012

Mrs. True has had to do this twice, and she says it sucks. Once was a pretty clear cut case and the mother lost custody, the other was suspected neglect/hygiene/etc. In that case the parents were found to be mostly ok and the kids stayed, but social services checked up on them for a few years.

She says that "It's so hard but it's what you signed up to do. The biggest thing that kept me going through this was that you have the child's best interests at heart, and you're not trying to punish the parents. If something happens to this kid and you've said nothing you'll have this with you forever."

Your principal sucks. Guidance counselors may be more on the ball with things like this, perhaps you could reach out to one if there is one where you are.

Assuming you mean Ontario Canada. Link to Section 72-1. Specifically, I think what you've said is covered by 72-1 (6-9) and maybe 72-1 (2.ii).

Setting aside the details of the act and going with the spirit of the law.

"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."- Ontario Ministry of Children and Youth Services.

"I am a teacher in Ontario and I suspect that a student I teach requires intervention from child protection support. " - Anonymous

Good luck.
posted by true at 7:16 PM on January 19, 2012 [3 favorites]

I joined Metafilter just to answer this question. I'm from Ontario, have worked in child care and have been in your situation before. Yes, absolutely report this to facs or children's aid. They won't tell the parents why they are being investigated, or who called them. It won't be some big dramatic scene with the child being yanked away by police or something either- for what you are describing they may leave the child with the parents while they investigate. Support offered may include parenting classes, or occasional visits to the parents to check up on the situation.

You don't have to decide whether this is child abuse or not, you just have to call. It's a tough situation to be in, but your call may do that child a world of good. Good luck.
posted by Lay Off The Books at 7:23 PM on January 19, 2012 [8 favorites]

You should absolutely report it. Physical abuse is not the only reportable situation. What you described sounds like emotional abuse and neglect, at the very least. If you want to have a better sense of what markers of physical or emotional abuse or neglect you should report in the future, you can call CAS and talk to them about what their response would be in whatever situations you might be concerned about. They have a range of options when dealing with these situations and they try not to go to the extreme of removing the child from the home when they can avoid that path.
posted by monkeys with typewriters at 7:30 PM on January 19, 2012

I am also a teacher in Ontario. We are legally obligated to report suspected abuse. This link should ease your mind as to the process that would be set in motion if you report a situation.

I would never receive the response that you did from my principal. Not even close. We are reminded continually that they are there to support us in this sort of thing.
posted by davey_darling at 8:06 PM on January 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

"I understand that I am a 'mandatory reporter' and if I believe there is abuse, I must report it. But I am unsure if the behaviour I am witnessing constitutes reportable offenses."

I recently did the mandatory reporter training in my state (in the U.S., obviously) and the most important thing I took away from it is that it's not my job to decide if what I'm witnessing constitutes abuse -- it's my job to report it to the people who are experts in making that determination. By reporting it, you are not saying, "This is abuse." You are saying, "I am witnessing something problematic that I would like an expert to take a second look at."

(And yes, in neglect situations, social workers in the U.S. and Canada have a lot of tools, especially if it appears to be neglect-from-ignorance or neglect-from-specific-stress, and it may well mean the family receives supportive services or the mother gets some education or treatment.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:08 PM on January 19, 2012 [3 favorites]

You should report it. You are witnessing the 10% that sticks above the public parapet; you have no idea what the other 90% looks like. That is the point; social services is empowered to go in and find out the answer to that question, and you're not. Please let them do their job.
posted by DarlingBri at 9:47 PM on January 19, 2012

You should report it. But I am wondering if the school has contacted the parents about the child's hygiene? Here (NJ) it would be the responsibility of the school nurse to call the parents and see what was going on there as a first response. Perhaps they have no hot water, or some other factor that could be fixed.

I got a very embarrassing but enlightening call from the nurse when one of my sons was around 8 and had decided it was ok to shower but not to wash his hair which I did not know since i did not follow him into the shower. I washed his hair for him in the sink a few times after that until he got the idea. End of problem, and I was glad the nurse had called.

I realize there is much more going on in this case, and am really surprised that your principal did not back you up on reporting what you suspect. It sounds like she does not want to take responsibility for doing what needs to be done, so you have to do it.
posted by mermayd at 5:49 AM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Report. This is a family that needs help.
posted by freshwater at 6:06 AM on January 20, 2012

Seconding everything Lay Off The Books said- the point of the hotline is for THEM to determine whether it's an abuse/neglect situation and investigate as appropriate. This takes that burden off of the caller. Definitely, definitely call.
posted by shes_ajar at 7:00 AM on January 20, 2012

Okay, this is sensitive but maybe you'll benefit from seeing what could happen if you do call. (I'm in the US, so I know this may be irrelevant.)

When my son was in Second Grade he told his teacher some whoppers and his teacher called Child Protective Services. We later found out that my son has ADHD and now that he's on his meds the hyperbole has calmed down quite a bit. (HE told her thing like: We didn't bathe him enough. Well, the kid would live in the tub if I let him. He was upset because I told him once a day was plenty. He said he had to push junk off his bed before he could go to sleep at night. Yeah, all his toys that he spent the afternoon piling up on the bed. He told her that we didn't feed him enough. Well, the kid would literally eat until he puked if we let him, so we limited him to 3 meals and 3 snacks a day. Obviously we were starving him.)

CPS came down to the house and spoke with me. Once I showed the lady what was really going on she made a few notes on a clip board and left. A month later we got a letter saying that our case was closed due to no further complaints and lack of evidence. That was it.

Before she left I asked her what would have happened if the allegations were true. She told me that a file would be opened, we would be brought before a judge and would most likely be ordered to take parenting classes. The kids would not be taken from the house unless we failed to make the required changes. We were being accused of neglect, not abuse. Similar to what I think your situation is.

Of course, I wish the teacher had come to me first. If she had just asked about some of these things I could have cleared them up. My son is a skinny little thing though so I can understand why she would worry that we weren't feeding him enough. There was no other evidence though, he didn't smell, he always wore clean clothes, his homework always came back neat.

You have serious evidence of neglect. As a parent it's our responsibility to make sure a child gets to school clean. If she was wearing wild outfits I could pass it off as a personality quirk (my brother wore a cape everywhere for years) but even then the clothes should be clean. I think every parent has had that time where they had to sneak in the kids room at night to steal that one thing the kid can't live without just to wash & dry it and sneak it back to exactly the same spot. That's pretty normal. Going to school stinking every day is not.

If I was in your position I would err on the side of what would benefit the child most. In this case it seems obvious to me that this little girl needs help. I think you should call.
posted by TooFewShoes at 7:37 AM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

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