Little Warriors

Disclosing & Reporting

What to Do When Child Abuse is Suspected

When you suspect a child has been abused, you are legally required to report your suspicion to child social services or to the police. Click here for provincial and regional reporting information and resources.

When Children Disclose

If you interact with children, you may find yourself in situations in which a child tells you that he or she was sexually abused. How you respond in this moment can make a significant different in that child's life. You do not need to be an expert in sexual abuse of have all of the answers about what is going to happen.

DO the following things:

  • Use good listening skills
  • Believe the child. it is very rare for children to lie about child sexual abuse. In terms of false positives for child sexual abuse, evidence reassuringly suggest that the occurrence of intentionally fabricated child sexual abuse allegations is extremely low, and thus disclosures should be taken seriously and at their face value.
  • Remain as calm as possible. It is expected that you will feel a range of emotions (sadness, confusion, anger and betrayal are common). Try to keep these emotions to yourself when talking with the child and save them to share with a supportive adult.
  • Allow for silence. Sometimes words are not necessary for a child to feel believed, cared for, or protected. Avoid filling space with idle chatter, even it this is difficult for you.
  • Avoid promising things that you cannot guarantee, such as, "I'll make sure you never have to see that person again." Work hard to reassure them in ways that you can follow through with.
  • Be honest about your legal obligation to report abuse. Even if the child asks you to keep the abuse secret, private or confidential, you must report the abuse. It is best to be honest with the child that you are required to do this.
  • Avoid asking too many questions or you may silence the child. Ask yourself, "Do I need to know the answer to this question or am I asking out of curiosity?" If you need to know the answer in order to determine how immediate the risk is for the child then you can ask him or her the question.
  • Determine if the child is in immediate danger and take steps to protect the child from further abuse.
  • Report the abuse to child social services and police.

SAY the following things:

  • Say, "I believe you" or, "I believe that this happened to you."
  • Tell the child it is not his or her fault that any of the abuse happened. Most children blame themselves for the sexual abuse. Say, "None of this is your fault", "It isn't your fault that his happened." Hearing this from you can make a big difference for the child's future healing.
  • Tell the child you are glad they told you about the abuse.
  • If emotions like anger slip out, talk to the child about them. This way the child does not feel responsible for them. "I am feeling really angry at Auntie for doing these things to you. I am not angry at you."
  • Be honest with the child. If you are not sure what is going to happen, say that. If you do not know what to do, let him or her know that. You can say, "I'm not sure what is going to happen, but I'm going to keep helping you as much as I can." By telling you about the sexual abuse, the child is demonstrating his or her high level of trust in you. Respect this trust by being open.
  • As soon as you can, make a written record of what the child said to you and any observations you made. This will prove very helpful when reporting the details and for any subsequent investigation.

Should I Make a Report?

When you suspect a child has been abused, you are legally required to report your suspicion to child social services or to the police. Click here for provincial and regional reporting information and resources.

Click here to download a printable version. 

Making a Report of Suspected Child Sexual Abuse

When making a report:

  • Write down everything that you are concerned about before you call to report. Refer to these notes while you report. Include things the child said, as well as any concerning signs you have noticed. Date and sign your notes.
  • Call your local child social services office. If you need help finding the number click here. 
  • If the child is in immediate danger call your local emergency police dispatch (such as 911).
  • Do not hesitate to report because you do not have a lot of information. Even a small amount of information about a child can be helpful or can make a difference in the investigation process.
  • Continue reporting each time you have new information. A child social services worker or police officer may decide not to investigate initially because he or she does not have enough information. However, passing on more information about the child, concerning signs in the child, or what the child has told you can help to make the decision to investigate at a later time. You never know how much information child social services and/or police already have on this child. What might feel like a small amount of information may add to an ongoing file or investigation that you were not aware was taking place.
  • Talk to your own support network through this process. Share your worries and fears about the reporting process. Also, lean on your support network to discuss any disappointments and successes that may come out of reporting.

Take the Little Warriors Prevent It! Taking Action to Stop Child Sexual Abuse Workshop

To learn more about disclosing and reporting, we invite you to take the free Little Warriors Prevent It! Taking Action to Stop Child Sexual Abuse Workshop. You can take the 3 hour workshop in-person if it is offered in your community or you can take the 90 minute version online. Click here to register or to learn more. 



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