Abstract: (see Poster Gallery) Investigating Enforcement of Mandatory Reporting: Legal and Professional Consequences of Non-Reporting of Child Maltreatment (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

All in-person and virtual presentations are in Mountain Standard Time Zone (MST).

SSWR 2023 Poster Gallery: as a registered in-person and virtual attendee, you have access to the virtual Poster Gallery which includes only the posters that elected to present virtually. The rest of the posters are presented in-person in the Poster/Exhibit Hall located in Phoenix A/B, 3rd floor. The access to the Poster Gallery will be available via the virtual conference platform the week of January 9. You will receive an email with instructions how to access the virtual conference platform.

74P (see Poster Gallery) Investigating Enforcement of Mandatory Reporting: Legal and Professional Consequences of Non-Reporting of Child Maltreatment

Thursday, January 12, 2023
Phoenix C, 3rd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Heather Bergen, MA, Doctoral Student, York University, Toronto, ON, Canada
Background and Purpose: The duty to report child maltreatment has expanded over the years to include not just disclosed or suspected abuse but “risk of future harm”. Some researchers argue for the broadest possible interpretation of the “duty to report” so that Child Protection Services (CPS) can screen families, while others argue that that the increased referrals mean that CPS’ resources are spent primarily investigating families on questionable grounds, or trite reporting, rather than focusing on urgent maltreatment concerns. The vagueness of the legislation has led to increasing anxiety among social workers about when a call to CPS needs to be made. These anxieties translate into more calls and the number of families investigated by CPS are at historic levels; these increased referrals are not distributed equitably. In Ontario, after the last major reform to the legislation, when “risk of future harm” was added, reporting doubled for white families but quadrupled for Black families (Antwi-Bosiako et al, 2020). This research examined legal and professional disciplinary decisions faced by Canadian mandated reporters in the hopes of decreasing trite reporting.

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.