covereng.jpg (10339 bytes)
response.jpg (17322 bytes) The government recently expanded the grounds or reasons for finding a child in need of protection. Here's what teacher need to know about their increased responsibilities

Child Welfare Reform Act,Robins Report Highlight Teachers' Responsibilities

Just one week after the Ontario government proclaimed the first major changes to child protection legislation in 10 years, a judicial inquiry into a tragic breakdown of educators' responsibility to vulnerable students called for more sweeping changes to ensure the safety of students.

While teachers have long been required to report suspicions of child abuse, the amended Child and Family Services Act requires teachers to report all suspicions they may have based on reasonable grounds that a child is or may be in need of protection to the Children's Aid Society (CAS).

The amendments expand the grounds or reasons for finding a child in need of protection, including adding the concept of neglect, and lowering the threshold for determining risk of harm and emotional harm to children. It also allows evidence of a person's past conduct toward children to be used in child protection court proceedings.

The amended legislation creates a single duty to report for professionals and the public. Despite the provisions of any other act, a person must report, based on reasonable grounds, any suspicion that a child is or may be in need of protection. This expands the professional's duty to report and holds him or her liable for not reporting where a child is in need of protection. In contrast, the previous provision limited the requirement to report to cases of suspected abuse.

13 Grounds
Teachers must report their suspicions to the CAS forthwith if a child:

  • has suffered physical harm inflicted by someone in charge of the child or through their failure to care for, provide for, supervise or protect the child, or from a pattern of neglect
  • is likely to suffer harm
  • has been sexually molested or exploited
  • is likely to be sexually molested or exploited
  • requires medical treatment that is not being provided
  • has suffered emotional harm where there are reasonable grounds to believe it results from actions, failure to act or neglect of a person in charge of the child
  • has suffered emotional harm and treatment is not being provided
  • is likely to suffer emotional harm from the actions, failure to act or pattern of neglect of parents or persons in charge
  • is likely to suffer emotional harm and that parents or persons in charge are not providing treatment or services to prevent the harm
  • suffers from a condition that, if not remedied, could seriously impair their development and parents or persons in charge are not providing treatment
  • has been abandoned
  • is less than 12 years old, has killed or seriously injured another person or caused serious property damage and parents or persons in charge are not providing the necessary services or treatment to prevent a recurrence
  • is less than 12 years old and has on more than one occasion injured another person or caused loss or damage to another person's property with the encouragement of the person in charge of the child or because of that person's failure or inability to supervise the child adequately.

The duty to report is also ongoing. If a person has made a previous report about a child and has additional reasonable grounds to suspect that a child is or may be in need of protection, they must make another report to the CAS.

Can't Delegate
The amendments also clarify that professionals cannot delegate the duty to report to another individual and that the duty to report is an ongoing obligation. In other words, a teacher can not leave it up to their principal to report their concerns to the CAS, or vice versa.

The provision permitting court-ordered access to records is expanded to allow access where a record may be relevant to a child protection proceeding and where it may be relevant to assessing compliance with certain orders. A new provision is added permitting the CAS to obtain a warrant to access records that may be relevant to investigating an allegation that a child is or may be in need of protection.

In light of these changes and expanded responsibilities, teaching professionals in Ontario will be required to have a clear knowledge of the Child and Family Services Act if they wish to fulfill their duties under the amended Act. Members are also reminded of subsection 1(27) of Ontario Regulation 437/97 made under the Ontario College of Teachers Act, which states that "failing to comply with the member's duties under the Child and Family Services Act" is defined as professional misconduct.

You can learn more about these changes on the Ministry of Community and Social Services web site at, or contact the ministry for a copy of Reporting Child Abuse and Neglect - Your Responsibility under the Child and Family Services Act.

Robins Report
Just one week after these changes were proclaimed, the Honourable Sydney Robins released a comprehensive report - Protecting Our Students: A Review to Identify and Prevent Sexual Misconduct in Ontario Schools - making over 100 recommendations. Robins was appointed by the provincial government to recommend ways to identify and prevent sexual abuse, harassment or violence in Ontario schools.

The impetus for the report came from the case of a Sault Ste. Marie teacher, Kenneth DeLuca, who assaulted 13 female students over a 21-year period. Robins conducted extensive interviews with people associated with the investigation of DeLuca and his trial, including a number of his victims, and with many stakeholder groups and organizations in education. What went wrong in the DeLuca case provided the basis for many of his recommendations.

In accepting the report, the provincial government said that although about 70 per cent of the recommendations had already been implemented, it would be working with the College of Teachers to address an additional 39 recommendations.

Robins' recommendations are wide-ranging. They cover the obligations of teachers, school officials and school boards, the use of evidence from children in disciplinary procedures, educational programs for CAS workers, teacher organizations and other stakeholders that would promote understanding of the issues, information about sexual misconduct in pre-service and in-service programs, screening of teacher applicants, reporting sexual misconduct to the College, investigating sexual misconduct and the need for full disclosure.

Reporting to the College
Robins recommends that legislation be changed to prevent abusive teachers moving on to another school or jurisdiction before they can be charged or convicted. Currently, school boards are required to inform the College when a teacher has been convicted of a sexual or other offence that might put students at risk, but if no conviction is forthcoming, the College need not be informed.

Robins calls these provisions "significantly deficient." He recommends that school boards be required to inform the College when a member is charged with an offence, is disciplined or dismissed because of an offence or when a member resigns in the midst of an investigation regarding an offence.

Robins' report covers concerns he heard from teachers that they might be victims of false reports. His recommendations, he says, are designed to promote child safety, but "not at the expense of fairness to teachers." He conceded that false accusations have been made and recommends education of children's aid societies, teachers' associations and other stakeholders about reporting requirements to minimize errors.

Checking Applicants
Criminal record checks are just one aspect of screening new employees, says Robins. He recommends that before any offer of a job is made, a criminal record check, a disciplinary record check, a full reference check with previous employers and in-depth personal interviews should be conducted for every applicant for a teaching position, for school staff in a position of trust or authority and all volunteers who have frequent and unsupervised contact with students.

Robins also recommends that:

  • the court's power to prohibit convicted offenders from being in contact with children under 14 years of age be extended to young people under the age of 18
  • there be much more explanation and illustration of how teachers should behave with their students and education for all those who work in schools about what comprises sexual misconduct
  • the misconduct regulation made under the Ontario College of Teachers Act be amended to include sexual misconduct
  • the College's Ethical Standards be changed to include sexual abuse, harassment, a relationship with a student or former student under the age of 18 or "any conduct directed to establishing such a relationship"
  • that the duty of teachers to inform a colleague about an "adverse report" not apply to a report of suspected sexual misconduct
  • that members of the College be obliged to intervene in cases of suspected or alleged sexual misconduct.

The Robins report is available through Publications Ontario at 880 Bay Street, Toronto ON, or telephone 416-326-5300 or toll-free in Ontario 1-800-668-9938.