By Elizabeth Perzan, MSW, RSW
Editor’s Note: One of the most difficult, yet necessary parts of a therapist’s job is the “Duty to Report.” Our society prioritizes the safety and wellbeing of a child over the privacy and confidentiality of a client. But involving an outside agency based on a suspicion or a deeply personal disclosure is never an easy decision.
It is not up to the therapist to decide whether or not a child is truly at risk. That is a decision made by Child and Family Services and it is well beyond our scope of practice. Reports must be done at the risk of harm to the therapeutic relationship because there are no other alternatives. No professional wants to be that one person who could have prevented a tragedy, but didn’t because they weren’t sure enough or they wanted to give someone the benefit of the doubt. And the laws are written to prevent those sorts of judgment calls.
Every case where this must occur is challenging for both the client and the therapist. But this article is not about making you scared to say the wrong thing in front of a therapist. It was written with the intention of being fully transparent and helping you to understand more about the guidelines that all helping professionals must adhere to.
We hope this helps.
Do you refrain from sharing information about your family because you are worried that a report will be made to child welfare?
It is true that all professionals and all people in the community have a Duty to Report. The purpose is to ensure the safety of children, not to punish the family involved.
What is Duty to Report?
It means we are all responsible for reporting concerns about a child’s wellbeing. The Child and Family Services Act, R.S.O.1990 (CFSA) states there is an obligation to disclose confidential client information without consent if there are concerns about a child. However, we are not responsible for proving that the concerns are accurate. If you feel you have reasonable grounds (meaning: you have information using normal and honest judgment) you would need to make a report to child welfare (Children’s Aid Society, Dilico, Tikinagan). The report is reviewed by skilled professionals who assess and determine what level of services are needed for the family involved.
What is Child Abuse and Neglect?
First, we need to know the definition of a child. The CFSA states that a child is anyone under the age of 18. A child is in need of protection if you have knowledge that they have suffered or are at risk of suffering from harm. There are different types of harm such as:
Why would your counsellor phone child welfare?
Your counsellor would phone child welfare if they have to. The nature of the work puts counselor/psychotherapists in a position that recognizes possible signs of abuse and neglect. Your counsellor may have a clinical discussion with their supervisor to explore the possibility for Duty to Report. This includes careful discussion about the unique circumstances of the family, standards of practices, and policies within that organization. If possible, it is always preferable to involve the client in making contact with the child welfare agency so they are clear about what is being reported and can choose to use their involvement as an opportunity to improve the situation.
If a counsellor does not follow Duty to Report, their licence to provide counselling services can be revoked.
It takes a community to raise a child and to ensure children are safe. If a counsellor is phoning child welfare, it is not to punish the family, but instead it is about getting them the help they need to support the wellbeing of their children. Try viewing child welfare as additional support to overcome current challenges. Child welfare is resourceful and has the ability to access you and your family to additional services.
If you would like more information, please visit one of the following websites or contact the agency:
Children’s Aid Society District of Thunder Bay
“Reporting Child Abuse and Neglect: It’s Your Duty”, Ministry of Children and Youth Services, http://www.children.gov.on.ca/htdocs/English/documents/topics/childrensaid/Reportingchildabuseandneglect.pdf
“The Duty to Report under the Child and Family Services Act”, Ontario Collee of Social Workers and Social Service Workers,https://www.ocswssw.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/The-Duty-to-Report-under-the-Child-and-Family-Services-Act.pdf
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