Thuyet is a doctor. Many of her patients are children. This morning, she examined Vladimir, who is 6 years old. Thuyet has seen Vladimir a few times. He comes with his mother, whose breath often smells of alcohol. Thuyet is worried about Vladimir. Thuyet knows that, if she learns about a risk to a child’s well-being, she has an obligation to report the situation to the Director of Youth Protection (DYP). But she doesn’t whether she must report a case when a parent has an addiction problem.
In this article, Éducaloi explains when a child is considered to be in danger and when the situation must be reported to the DYP. A “child” is anyone under 18.
Who is the Director of Youth Protection?
The Director — or DYP — is the person responsible for looking out for the welfare of children. There is a director in each region of Quebec. In Montreal, there are 2, one for services in French and one for services in English. Usually the DYPs have their offices in the Youth Centre for their regions.
The DYP handles reports about children who might need protection. If necessary, the DYP takes steps to improve a child’s situation. When a person contacts the DYP to give information about a child who might need protection, this is called “reporting” a situation.
DYPs cannot personally visit all the children mentioned in a report, so they get help from teams of specialists, such as social workers, psychologists, doctors and specialized teachers.
I am worried about a child. How do I know if the situation is serious enough to contact the DYP?
Of course, most people are not social workers or judges specialized in child protection. They might hesitate to contact the DYP, worried they might be wrong about a situation or worried about what might happen to them or the parents of the child involved.
It is not always easy to distinguish between a hyperactive child and one with behaviour problems. Or between an abused child and one who really fell down the stairs.
If you are unsure about whether a situation is serious enough to report, you can contact the reporting department of the Youth Centre in your region and ask to speak to a specialist. (After hours, contact the emergency service of the Youth Centre.) Your call is free of charge and will not be considered to be a report, only a confidential consultation. If you think a child is in danger after speaking to specialist, you can always report the situation.
You can find the number for the Youth Centre in your area by looking in the blue pages of your phone book under "Youth Protection", or on the website of the Youth Centre of your region.
Am I obliged to report a situation to the DYP?
Sometimes you are obliged to report, and sometimes it is your choice. The answer depends on the child’s situation and your relationship to the child.
These people must report a situation if a child in danger:
1. Professionals who care for or help children and who, in the course of their work, learn about a child who is in danger. The professionals include health care workers, teachers, day care workers and police officers. It does not matter if the child is someone else’s patient or student. This obligation to report even applies to people (except lawyers) who must by law keep confidential information they receive during their work.
2. Any other person, no matter their line of work or how they learned about a child’s situation, if the child has suffered from:
- sexual abuse
- physical abuse (for example, a child who is beaten or given punishment that is much too severe and whose parents do nothing to stop the situation)
A lawyer told about the situation of a child in danger while that lawyer is under an obligation to keep this information confidential is not obliged to report the situation to the DYP. However, if she is convinced that saying nothing could result in a suicide, murder or serious injury, she can reveal the information.
In other cases in which the security or development of the child is at risk, you can report the situation even if you are not obliged to. Here are some examples:
- you see that a child is often left in the care of someone who is really drunk
- your neighbour has no idea how to care for her baby
- you nephew’s behaviour has spun out of control since he began hanging around friends who don’t seem to be a good influence
- any other situation involving neglect, negligence, psychological abuse or behavioural issues.
If a child asks for help to call the DYP, do I have to do this?
Yes. The law is very clear on this. If a child wants to report a situation to the DYP that involves a danger to security or development, you must help him, even if he is not the child who is the victim of the situation.
When is a child considered to be in danger?
A child is in danger when his security or development is or may be at risk.
1. Situations in which a child’s security is in danger:
- A child is abandoned.
- A child is being neglected.
- A child is suffering from psychological ill-treatment.
- A child is being sexually abused or there is a serious risk of sexual abuse.
- A child is being physically abused or there is a serious risk of physical abuse.
- A child has serious behavioural disturbances.
Each of these situations is explained in more detail below.
2. Situations in which the security or development of the child may be in danger:
- A child runs away.
- A child doesn’t attend school or is often absent despite being legally required to attend school. Usually, for there to be a danger to the child in these situations, there must be other factors at play, such as deliberately keeping the child away from others or behavioural problems. Remember that most children must legally attend school until the end of the school year in which they turn 16. Exceptions to this rule are when the child is in an approved training program, when a child’s physical condition prevents him from attending school, when the child has been expelled from school, or when the child has already earned his diploma
- A child has been in a foster home or group home for 1 year and the parents abandon or neglect the child. It is important to understand that even when a child is placed in someone else’s care, the parents still have responsibilities toward the child, such as ensuring the child is cared for, fed, clothed and housed, and educated.
What does it mean to abandon a child?
First, a child is considered abandoned when his parents die and no one else is caring for him.
A child is also considered to be abandoned if his parents are not taking care of him and making sure he receives an education.
However, parents are allowed to give the care of their children to another member of the family, a friend or someone else (e.g., a babysitter), or to have them live at a boarding school for a while. But even if a child is with someone else, the parents must stay involved in his life by visiting him, contributing financially to his needs, ensuring he gets medical care, etc. In other words, even when a child is in someone else’s care, the parents still have an obligation to provide for his care, supervision and education.
What does it mean to neglect a child?
A child is considered neglected if:
- The parents (or guardians) fail to meet the child’s basic needs. These needs include food, clothing, hygiene and housing. Obviously, the standards for these needs depend on the parents’ financial situation. But no financial situation justifies failing to meet these basic needs.
- The parents (or guardians) do not provide treatment that is necessary given the physical or mental health of the child. For instance, this might involve parents refusing an operation necessary for the child, being too disorganized to properly manage their son’s diabetes, or not taking their daughter’s anorexia seriously enough.
- The parents don’t properly supervise the child or neglect his education. Parents must supervise their children, from the infant stage all the way through adolescence. They must also educate them: teach them to speak, to stay neat and clean, to cross the street, and a million other things. Parents must also ensure that their children complete a school program.
A child is also considered to be in danger if there is a serious risk he will be neglected. For example, if drug addiction is preventing a single mother from properly caring for her 3 children, there is probably a serious risk that the 4th child will be neglected right from birth.
What is psychological ill-treatment?
This is when a child’s parents or someone else psychologically harms the child and his parents do not do enough to put a stop to it. For example:
- A child witnesses domestic violence.
- A child isn’t loved or is treated with indifference.
- A child is belittled or criticized.
- A child is rejected.
- A child is overly controlled.
- A child is constantly left alone in a corner and suffers from being isolated.
- A child is forced to work or is exploited.
- A child who is threatened
We wish the listed ended there. Unfortunately, there really are no limits to the ways children can be traumatized. There could be a single serious and traumatizing event, or something that doesn’t seem serious but that, over time, destroys the confidence of the child.
What is sexual abuse?
The first thing that comes to mind is sexual relations between an adult and a child who is not old enough to consent to the act. This is certainly sexual abuse. But there are many other types as well. For instance, a child exposed to sexual games intended to arouse him, or to arouse someone else, is also being sexually abused.
There can even be sexual abuse without physical contact. For example, a parent showing pornographic films to his child is sexual abuse.
Sexual abuse can be committed by a parent, an uncle, a brother, another student… anyone really. Parents (or the other parent) have an obligation to stop the abuse, to ensure it doesn’t continue, and to make sure that the child gets help after suffering abuse.
Sometimes parents don’t believe a child who says he has been sexually abused, a mother refuses to see the truth, or the presence of the abuser is tolerated and the seriousness of the abuse is played down. In these cases, the parents probably can’t protect the child against further abuse, nor can they help him heal psychologically.
In contrast, if the parents are protective and take their child’s side, if they ensure that the sexual abuse stops and that their child gets help, then the security and development of the child will probably not be considered to be in danger.
Sexual abuse is considered so serious that anyone knowing about it has an obligation to report it to the DYP, even if the parents have taken steps to stop it.
Also, it is not necessary that sexual abuse actually take place. If there is a serious risk that it could take place, the child’s security and development will be considered to be in danger. For example, if the first child of a couple was involved in their sexual acts, it is very likely that the security and development of their younger children could also be in danger.
Finally, to be clear, the law does not prohibit teenagers from having sex lives. But it does prohibit forcing a teenager to take part in sexual acts. And no matter the age of the child, an adult in a position of confidence and authority over a child commits a crime if he takes advantage of this situation to engage in sexual activities with the child.
What is physical abuse?
Physical abuse means actions that cause physical pain or injury to the child. It involves excessive, uncontrolled, unreasonable or impulsive use of force. It can include unreasonable educational practices, such as forcing a child to listen by hitting him with a belt or threatening to hit him.
To determine whether the actions were acceptable or not, the child’s age, size and health will be considered, along with the frequency and seriousness of the actions.
Abuse can be a single isolated use of force that leaves marks or injures a child. It can also involve less serious actions, but ones that are repeated frequently.
We tend to think that the violence comes only from parents. But it can come from anyone: a grandfather set on punishing a child or two older sisters that like to take it out on the youngest sister.
It is not necessary that the child actual suffer from physical abuse for his security and development to be considered to be in danger: there can be just a serious risk that the child will be physically abused.
Parents (or the other parent) have an obligation to protect their child against this violence. If they do nothing and someone alerts the DYP, the security and development of the child will be considered to be in danger.
Everyone has the obligation to report cases of physical abuse against children, even where the parents have done their best to fix the situation.
What are “serious behavioural disturbances”?
When a child’s behaviour puts him at risk physically or psychologically, or threatens those around him, and the parents do nothing to fix the situation, this is considered to be “serious behavioural difficulties”.
If a child 14 years old or older refuses to respect what a parent does to fix the situation, we can also talk of serious behavioural difficulties.
Again here, it is a question of degree. There is a big difference between giving a good body check on the hockey rink and “taxing” (stealing from) younger children at school. Or between secretly smoking a cigarette and doing crack cocaine. The dividing line will be drawn based on this question: does the behaviour put the child or other people at risk physically or psychologically?
The following cases would probably be “serious behavioural disturbances”:
- a serious or repeated rejection of parental authority
- a child who often has uncontrollable fits
- delinquency (individual or as part a gang);
- violence and aggression toward parents, brothers and sisters or classmates
- children who represent a risk to themselves because they are suicidal, addicted to drugs or alcohol, or because they self-mutilate
- complete rejection of all authority
If the parents of a child address the problem through medical treatment, psychological or psychiatric counselling, detox treatment, working with a social worker at the local community service centre, etc., and the child takes part in these solutions, it is likely that the security and development of the child will not be considered to be in danger.
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.