VEGA Activity Update – January 2016

Jill McTavish

Mandatory Reporting of Child Maltreatment:

What is the purpose of mandatory reporting?

Global estimates of child maltreatment indicate that

  • nearly a quarter of adults (22.6%) have suffered child physical abuse;
  • over a third of adults (36.3%) have suffered child emotional abuse;
  • 3% of adults have suffered neglect in childhood; and
  • 18% of women and 7.6% of men respectively have suffered child sexual abuse.

Given the prevalence and serious lifetime consequences of child maltreatment, there have been a number of international efforts to both prevent it, and reduce its associated impairment. An important strategy to address child maltreatment is mandatory reporting of suspected abuse, by a broad range of professionals who interact with children, to child protection authorities. One of the most commonly cited benefits of mandatory reporting is the increased identification of children exposed to child maltreatment and the provision of associated services.

What gets reported, internationally and in Canada?

A recent survey by the International Society for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect (ISPCAN), indicates that 73.7% of responding low and middle income countries (LMICs) and 62.8% of high-income countries (HICs) have national mandatory reporting laws for child maltreatment.

These laws cover physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect, emotional maltreatment and exposure to intimate partner violence (IPV) in 59.1% of the HICs and 32.1% of the LMICs.

In Canada, all provinces and territories have mandatory reporting laws, although the type of abuse and severity of abuse that are deemed reportable differs by province and territory. Specific details of mandatory reporting laws are organized by the Canadian Child Welfare Research Portal here.

Who is mandated to report suspected child maltreatment?

The term “mandated reporter” is generally reserved for a person who performs professional or official duties with respect to children (healthcare professionals, teachers, social workers, etc.). Some provinces specify certain types of professionals that are mandated to report and others require all citizens to report suspected child abuse. Specific details of mandatory reporting laws are organized by the Canadian Child Welfare Research Portal here.

What is known about the effectiveness of mandatory reporting?

In spite of its influence, little is known about the effectiveness of mandatory reporting in reducing children’s exposure to violence and improving important outcomes, and the mechanism itself remains controversial. VEGA staff are working on an evidence-based summary of mandatory reporting, which involves a meta-synthesis of qualitative research on experiences with and attitudes towards reporting.

Preliminary results indicate that mandated reporters have a variety of positive and negative experiences with reporting. The negative experiences discussed by mandated reporters include discussions about harmful impacts of reporting on children, families, and reporters.

VEGA Findings Forthcoming

Findings from the VEGA systematic review on mandatory reporting will be summarized and incorporated into the guidance and education being prepared for health and social service providers in Canada.

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