Privacy concerns keep people from reporting child abuse: Ont. officials

TORONTO -- Recent inquests into the deaths of Ontario children have failed to shake persistent myths that prevent many people from reporting concerns about kids to child welfare authorities, two provincial offices said Wednesday.

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Teachers, police officers and other professionals who deal with children often remain reluctant to share information with children's aid societies due to common misconceptions about privacy, according to the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario and the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth.

Though they may mean well, their hesitation is misguided and may put children at risk, the officials said.

"Professionals who are working with children not only may share information that may help protect that child, but in some cases, have a duty to share that information," said the privacy commissioner, Brian Beamish.

A new pamphlet released Wednesday aims to clear up those misunderstandings by laying out those responsibilities.

The 15-page document will be distributed to teachers, health-care practitioners, law enforcement and children's aid societies through professional associations.

The need for greater communication between those who work with and care for children has been at the forefront of several coroner's inquests into the death of children.

Recommendations issued in the Jeffrey Baldwin inquest suggested a public awareness campaign about people's duty to report concerns about child abuse or neglect, and reminders to professionals about their legal duties.

Jeffrey Baldwin was a healthy baby when he and his siblings were placed in the care of their grandparents, but over the next few years the boy fell multiple times through society's safety nets and starved to death.

"There's been some impetus from that inquest, after some pushing, to help people understand more the importance about the duty to report and how serious an obligation it is," said Irwin Elman, Ontario's advocate for children and youth.

However, he said, "I think more can be done."

The issue has also been raised at the inquest into the death of eight-year-old Katelynn Sampson, who died at the hands of her guardians in 2008. The inquest is scheduled to resume Monday.

"There are many times when points of protection fail and our worry is we don't want it to fail because there's some myth out there about sharing information about the needs of a child," Elman said.


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