Child Protection: How you can help a friend in need

Daniel is fourteen years old and in grade nine.  He is on his school’s junior basketball team, and practices in the mornings before school.  One morning Daniel and his teammates are in the change room, suiting up for their basketball practice.  They are all talking about an upcoming game against their rival school.  Daniel’s friend Eric is changing next to him.  When Eric is changing into his basketball jersey, Daniel notices a huge bruise on Eric’s shoulder.  Daniel asks him about it and Eric immediately says, “Oh it’s nothing. I’m such a klutz – I fell down the stairs yesterday!”  With that Eric finishes changing at lightning speed and practically runs out into the gym, away from Daniel.  Daniel gets an uneasy feeling in his stomach.

At the end of the day, Daniel and Eric walk home from school together.  At first Daniel keeps the conversation light, talking about class and their upcoming basketball game.  But Daniel can’t shake the uneasy feeling about what had happened that morning.  Daniel decides to bring up the subject with Eric.

“Eric, that bruise on your shoulder looks pretty bad.”

Eric’s walk slows, but he responds, “Oh, it’s nothing.  It doesn’t hurt that bad.  It was my fault, I fell on the ice at hockey practice last night.”

“But this morning you said that you fell down the stairs.”

“Yah…  I fell down the stairs and I tripped on the ice – I’m a klutz.  Drop it.”

Daniel doesn’t want to drop it.  He has a terrible feeling and asks, “Eric, did someone give you that bruise?”  Eric won’t make eye contact with Daniel and doesn’t answer the question.   Daniel says, “I’m just worried.  Are you okay?”

Eric asks Daniel if he can keep a secret; Daniel says, “Of course.”  Eric then confesses to Daniel that the bruise wasn’t an accident.  His stepfather got angry last night when Eric forgot to unload the dishwasher, and he hit him.

“Eric, that’s not a reason for him to hit you.  You should tell your mom… or Mrs. Matthews the principal.  I’m sure that one of them can help.”

Eric responds, “Look it was my fault.  It’s always my fault!  I should have unloaded the dishwasher.  I always forget to do stuff, and if I didn’t he wouldn’t have to remind me!  I just have to be better.  I’m not telling anyone.  And you promised you wouldn’t say anything!”

Daniel says, “Yah I promised, but…”

“No ‘buts’! You promised!”

“Okay, okay.  I won’t say anything.”  Daniel promises.

That night, Daniel wants to talk to his parents about what Eric said, but he is afraid that he will get in trouble, or that he’ll get Eric in trouble.  And he doesn’t want to break Eric’s trust.

WHAT CAN DANIEL DO?

Daniel can tell his parents, or Mrs. Matthews the principal or one of the teachers about the information that Eric told him.  Abuse is harm that can take many different forms, including both words and physical actions. No person ever deserves abuse, and regardless of whether Eric forgot to do his daily chores or misbehaved, his stepfather has no right to hit him in anger. Eric needs to realize that it is not his fault and he by no means deserves the abuse from his stepfather.

The adult that Daniel chooses to confide in about his concerns for Eric may talk to Eric to find out what is going on.  If this adult thinks that Eric is being abused then he/she has a legal duty to report the situation to the Children’s Aid Society (CAS).  The Children’s Aid Society is responsible for protecting children under the age of 16 from harm. CAS also works with families to help take better care of their children. According to Ontario law, every member of the public must contact CAS to report suspicions if they have reasonable grounds to believe that a child is being abused or neglected. The law defines the phrase “child in need of protection” and sets out what must be reported to a children’s aid society, which includes physical, sexual and emotional abuse, neglect, and risk of harm. In this case, if Daniel speaks to an adult, the adult will have a duty to report suspicions of abuse (bruise on Eric’s shoulder and his explanation of it). CAS has the authority to investigate a situation if they are contacted.

IF CAS IS CONTACTED:

Once contacted, the CAS will do an initial screening of the report. The CAS worker will take some steps to decide whether CAS needs to become involved. If the CAS worker decides that the children are well cared for, then it may decide not to become involved. After the first step, screening, the CAS may decide to do a child protection investigation. If this happens, the CAS worker will visit Eric’s family home and talk to the family. They may also talk to other people, such as Eric’s teachers or neighbours. At the end of the investigation, they CAS worker may decide that the children are not in need of protection, and no further action will be taken. If, however, the CAS decides that the children are in need of protection, they will take steps to make sure the children are safe. This can include working with the family to try to address the issues and problems the family is facing. If the CAS feels there is no other way to keep the children safe, it can remove, or apprehend, the children. It is important to note that if a decision is made for you to be removed from your home against your parents wishes then the case would have to be heard in court. Children in Ontario have the right to lawyer from the Office of the Children’s lawyer who would represent your best interests at court.

NOTE:  Having involvement from a Child Protection Agency can be scary and overwhelming. It is important for a young person to know that they have rights and there are agencies that can help explain what is happening and offer support and advice.

If live in Ontario and are under 18 and you have questions about child protection you can call us at Justice for Children and Youth for more information and legal advice at (416) 920–1633 or 1-866-999-5329. It is important to note that while most adults who Eric spoke to about his situation may have a legal obligation to report their suspicion/concern to the local child protection agency this rule does not apply to youth who contact a lawyer for legal advice. Most of the time, a lawyer will not be obligated to report a child protection concern.  If you want legal advice – call and we’d be happy to speak with you.Furthermore, if a local child protection agency has been contacted and you want added assistance the Office of the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth has advocates who are happy to assist young people who want help advocating for their rights related to entering into care. You can contact them by calling 1-416-325-8326 or 1-800-263-2841.

To find more information or to contact your local Children’s Aid Society, please visit:

This blog scenario was written by Marsha Rampersaud, a volunteer on the JFCY’s PLE Team. The legal content was written by Lauren Grossman, a first year law student at the University of Toronto who is volunteering at JFCY as the PLE team leader through her law school’s Pro Bono Students Canada program. All legal content was reviewed by a JFCY lawyer.