Duty to report: A legislative responsibility
Daily interactions and close relationships with students can result in disclosure of information that provides grounds to believe the child/youth is in need of protection. There is a legislated requirement that everyone who has reasonable grounds to believe a child/youth is in need of protection has a legal responsibility to report the information. This responsibility cannot be delegated and supersedes any claim of professional privilege or confidentiality.
The circumstances, and ultimately the decision to file a report with either police or child protection services, can be difficult even for the most seasoned teacher or administrator. School divisions are required to have policy related to child protection and child protection reporting, and the Government of Saskatchewan has developed the Saskatchewan Child Abuse Protocol 2017 to provide support and clarity.
Duty to report applies to all children under the age of 16. Suspected sexual abuse or sexual exploitation must also be reported for any youth under the age of 18.
As per the Saskatchewan Child Abuse Protocol 2017, child abuse is defined as:
- Physical abuse,
- Sexual abuse and exploitation,
- Physical neglect,
- Emotional maltreatment,
- Exposure to domestic or interpersonal violence, and
- Failure to provide essential medical treatment.
While the abuse protocols do provide definitions of abuse, the point at which behaviours or incidents cross the line is not easily defined. Diversity in parenting styles and economic status can impact interactions with a child/youth. Teachers must use their professional judgment and may seek out support from colleagues and administration to help clarify if the presenting situation qualifies as per the protocols. When in doubt, always err on the side of reporting.
Failure to report can put a child/youth at risk as well as have professional and legal consequences. There are no legal consequences to a report made in good faith.
The Saskatchewan Child Abuse Protocol 2017 outlines how to receive a disclosure from a child/youth:
- Listen openly and control your reaction,
- Reassure the child/youth that they are safe and this is not their fault,
- Do not correct language or insert information. Let the child/youth report the incident in their own words,
- Record what the child/youth has reported and your observations, and
- Avoid making promises you cannot keep (e.g., I will not tell anyone, or I will keep a secret).
The Saskatchewan Child Abuse Protocol 2017 recognizes the unique role of teachers and administrators and outlines roles and responsibilities for individuals working in a school setting:
- Report (not investigate) all suspected cases of child abuse,
- Notify the school principal that a report has been made,
- Co-operate with police and child protection workers by providing access to information and an opportunity to speak to the child as needed,
- Participate in case planning and observe the child’s progress including behaviour, academic progress, emotional functioning and physical well-being,
- Maintain a written record of observations and/or discussions with or relating to the child,
- Provide academic, social and emotional support to the child, and
- Provide evidence and documentation in court proceedings.
The principal or designate is also responsible for providing access to the child/youth for child protection officers or police without informing the child/youth’s caregivers. The principal or designate may sit in on the interview if requested, but are not to coach or speak for the child.
Teachers and principals may not be informed of the outcome of the investigation and any information received will remain confidential.
For more information, consult the Saskatchewan Child Abuse Protocol 2017.