Reporting a Case to the Director of Youth Protection: The Process and Questions of Confidentiality

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Malec is a gym teacher in an elementary school. One morning, he notices that Jonathan, a 9-year old student, has bruises on his lower back and cuts on his arms. Curious, Malec asks Jonathan what happened. To his surprise, Jonathan tells him that Pietro, his older brother "beat him up again". And without further explanation, Jonathan goes back to playing. Malec is confused and doesn't know what to do.
 
Should he keep quiet and hope it won't happen again? Should he question the boy and try to find out more? Should he call the police? Jonathan's parents? The Director of Youth Protection (DYP)?
 
In this article, Éducaloi explains what is involved in informing the DYP about a child’s situation, when you may inform the DYP and when you must inform the DYP.

How do you inform the DYP that a child is in danger?

By "making a report". This means that you inform the DYP that a child is in such difficulty that you're concerned about the child's future or well-being. The law refers to a child "whose safety or development is or may be considered to be in danger”.

When the DYP receives a report, he is automatically required to briefly evaluate the child's situation. If this evaluation shows the concerns are justified, the DYP must do a more complete evaluation and decide if he must intervene in the life of the child and the child’s family to improve the situation.

Most of the time, situations are reported to the DYP by phone or by e-mail. The DYP's phone number is in the front pages of any Québec phone book under the heading "Youth Protection". 

Is there anything I should do before making a report?

To make sure your report is useful, provide the DYP with as much relevant and important information as possible. So you don’t forget something, write down this information before calling:

  • the child's name
  • the child's approximate age
  • the child's address and whereabouts
  • what you know about the child's community, family, friends, etc.
  • the facts that lead you to believe the child needs help

How should I react if a child confides in me?

When a child starts talking about terrible things, the common reaction is to be totally shocked or distressed. You want the full story, so you will be tempted to ask whatever comes to mind. This is understandable, but it is not the best thing to do.

The best thing is to simply listen to the information the child volunteers and not to ask for more details. This is because children are easily influenced by questions adults ask. Also, a child could become tired of saying the same things over and over to many people.

Detailed questions should be asked by the people responsible for evaluating the report and making decisions concerning the child. Many of them are specially trained in how to question children and avoid influencing them or making their distress worse.

Trying to get information from a child by asking too many questions could interfere with the DYP's investigation and even prevent the child from receiving much-needed help.

What does the DYP do after someone reports a situation?

He must quickly analyze the report and decide if he should do a more in-depth evaluation of the child's situation

If I make a report, who will know about it?

Nobody except the DYP and the members of his team who evaluate the report.

The identity of the person making a report to the DYP is confidential and cannot be revealed unless that person agrees. Also, no one can give out information that, put together, could identify the person making the report.

Often the person making the report is a police officer or some other person who is frequently required to make reports because of his line of work. This type of person generally accepts that he will be identified as the person who contacted the DYP. For example, police officers often state in their reports that they contacted the DYP.

But if the person making the report does not want to be identified, then his identity cannot be revealed, even to a judge. Also, the judge must prevent people from asking a witness to reveal the identity of the person who reported.

If I report a child's situation to the DYP and the case comes before a judge, will I have to testify in court?

Not necessarily. First of all, most DYP files don't end up in court.

Also, even if you have to go to court, nobody is allowed to know who made the report, and no one can ask a witness testifying to reveal that person's identity.

Even the lawyer representing the DYP will usually not know if the person who made the report is one of the witnesses the lawyer will be questioning.

In addition, no one can be criticized in court for failing to reveal information that should have been reported to the DYP, unless that person was under a legal obligation to do so.
 
However, if you've seen or heard anything important, a lawyer could always ask you to repeat it to the judge, like in any other court case. This is true even if the lawyer did not know you're the one who made the report. The lawyer for the DYP, or the parents, or the child can therefore legally force you to come to court by sending you an official document called a subpoena. If you get a subpoena, you are required by law to give your testimony in court.

There could be several witnesses in court to testify, and there could be more than one person who reported a case to the DYP among those witnesses. You'll never know.

Sometimes, a person has enough information to report a child's situation, but not enough to give testimony that would be useful to a judge. Imagine the situation where a child tells a teacher that his older brother is beaten on a regular basis. This is a case where the teacher is obliged to make a report. However, because the teacher did not personally see anything, it would be surprising if he were asked to testify.

If you are asked to testify and are worried about it, feel free to call the lawyer asking you to testify. He will explain what kind of questions you will be asked before the judge. You can also hire a lawyer to represent you.

Can I be sued if I reported a situation but was mistaken?

No. It would be really tragic if a child continued to be mistreated because you're not 100% sure and said nothing because you're afraid of being sued!

It's perfectly normal to not be absolutely sure about a child's situation, and it's perfectly human to make a mistake. Remember, because the DYP makes an initial brief evaluation of a reported situation, and then a more in-depth one, you do no harm by making a mistake.

As long as you have good intentions, you can't be sued for warning the DYP of a situation you thought was real.

Can I call the police and let them make the report instead of me?

No. In an emergency you can call the police and ask for their help, but you will not be fulfilling your obligation to report a child's situation by merely calling the police. Just because a police officer or someone else will also be making a report does not free you from your obligation to personally report the situation.

But there are situations in which you should definitely call the police: if immediate action is needed to prevent a crime – either against a child or by that child – the first thing you should do is call 911.

Important !
This article explains in a general way the law that applies in Quebec. This article is not a legal opinion or legal advice. To find out the specific rules for your situation, consult a lawyer or notary.