Reporting Suspected Child Abuse

You have been treating a 13-year-old who has sprained her ankle. While assessing her, you notice odd bruising patterns on her thighs. When you inquire about the bruises, the teen discloses, “My mother is very strict, and she can take it too far when she loses her temper.” She says the physical violence has been escalating lately and that she isn’t sure what to do. Her mother has threatened that if she tells anyone about this, she will withhold her cell phone and allowance and not allow her to see her friends outside school.

What would you do if you were the treating physical therapist in this situation? Would you report this to the Ministry of Child and Family Development? Or do you need more proof?

The physical therapist must be aware that when working with minors, there is always a duty to report if you have reason to believe a child or youth has been, or is likely to be, abused or neglected. “Reason to believe”1 means that, based on what you have seen or information you have, you believe a child or youth could be at risk and are concerned about the child’s/youth’s safety and wellbeing. The duty to report includes youth who are under the age of 19.

The duty to report abuse or suspected abuse of a child or youth is described in Sections 13 and 14 (1) of the Child, Family and Community Service Act. The duty exists even if the information is confidential and reporting is prohibited under another Act.

If you are unsure of what constitutes abuse or neglect, the Act (Section 13) provides a detailed list of the circumstances (including physical, sexual, and emotional) in which a child requires protection.

If you suspect a child has been abused, you can contact Child Protective Services 24 hours a day at 1-800-663-9122. It is important to note that a physical therapist does not require proof of abuse; you should call if you suspect abuse. If you feel the child is in immediate danger from their parent or caregiver, phone 9-1-1.

For more resources, The Child Abuse Prevention Handbook (PDF) provides examples of how abuse may present and how to speak to a child or youth client when you suspect abuse has occurred. The physical therapist may also give the client the number for The Helpline for Children at (no area code) 310-1234.

1 Government of British Columbia. (2017, March). Responding to Child Welfare Concerns: Your Role in Knowing When and What to Report. Government of British Columbia. https://www2.gov.bc.ca/assets/gov/public-safety-and-emergency-services/public-safety/protecting-children/child_abuse_prevention_handbook-general_public_booklet.pdf