Methods: This research investigates the legal and professional consequences faced by mandated reporters for failing to report child abuse. A cross-Canada critical case review was conducted of all criminal cases and a systemic review of professional disciplinary board decisions released by the licensing bodies of social workers, teachers, doctors and early childhood educators in Ontario. The criminal case review was conducted using three legal databases (Canlii, Lexus and Westlaw). The disciplinary board decisions were found by going to the websites of each of the licensing bodies in Ontario and searching the decisions. These findings were then collated and analyzed to find patterns of when mandated reporters faced legal or professional consequences for failure to report child abuse. Content analysis was completed for five criminal cases and eight professional cases.
Results: Across Canada there were only five criminal cases spanning from the 1980s (when reporting legislation was different) to the most recent in 2005. All of the cases were located in Ontario and only one resulted in a guilty finding. Four out of the five cases involved direct disclosures of childhood sexual abuse. Of the professional disciplinary decisions, all the social work decisions and most of the other professional decisions involved failing to report direct disclosures of physical or sexual abuse. No cases could be found of social workers ever being criminally charged with failure to report child maltreatment across any jurisdiction in Canada.
Conclusions and Implications: This research found that disciplinary bodies focus their attention on cases where there are direct disclosures of physical or sexual abuse. This should help allay concerns of mandated reporters regarding legal or professional censure for failing to report suspected or risk-based situations. Hopefully this can help decrease trite reporting, decrease biased referrals and focus the resources of the system on situations where children and families are directly asking for help.