6.3 Suspect Abuse But No Contact Information

According to Alaggia (2004), direct and indirect disclosure, also known as purposeful and accidental, are the most common types of disclosure.

Rimer and Prager (2016) suggest that only twenty-five percent of abused children make a direct disclosure. They do this because they believe you are a safe, trusted adult they can talk to, and/or they have new information such as what is happening is not ok, and/or a role model has disclosed abuse so they may feel they can disclose to and know what to do and what will happen. Most importantly, they are telling you because they think you can help!

Most children indirectly disclose what is happening or don’t share anything at all.

When You Are Familiar With the Child Who Discloses.

If a child discloses abuse or you suspect abuse, you need to be clear about your duty to report. In the previous section, we have been talking about children we work with regularly and would have access to their contact information. But what about children who you don’t know personally and yet suspect abuse? What about children who witness an episode of abuse, what do you do? What about children you see being treated poorly and at risk of harm? What do you do then?

This section of the Duty to Report chapter provides instructions on what to do in those situations.

Marko Discloses Abuse; What Should You Do?

You are at the park with your six-year-old child, and they start playing with a little boy about the same age. You do not see a parent with the child. The child comes over to you when you are giving yours a snack. The child asks for some food, and reluctantly you agree after the child assures you that they eat what you have all the time. After enjoying some food together, the child discloses that their father has a knife, and he took it out last night and waved it at his mother. His mother is very sad and didn’t walk him home from school. You asked the child where he lives, and he did not know his address but pointed and said, “over there.” You ask the child who is at the park with him, and the child says he stopped on his way home from school. “What is your name,” you ask. Marko, says the child. “Last name?” You ask, “what’s your last name?” “Marko Zugrebber,” says the child. After thinking for a few seconds, you realize this child was exposed to an abusive situation, and you should call the Children’s Aid Society (CAS). You decide that you will somehow keep the child near you and figure out your next steps. When you start looking around, you cannot see the child.

Is this a concern? Do you need to report to CAS?

Answer (click to reveal)

Yes, it is a concern. Do you need to report to CAS? No, you do not report to CAS. Why? Because you do not have contact information.

What should you do instead?  Call the Police Non-emergency line to report suspected exposure to abuse.

CAS requires that you have contact information for the child. Without this information, they cannot attend an appointment and follow-up.

Follow These Steps:

1. Listen – this is the most important skill. Ask only enough to clarify what the child is saying if needed.

You can ask:

    • “Tell me more about that?”
    • “When did that happen?”
    • “What happened to you?”
    • “Are you ok, you look down?”
    • “And then what happened?”

2. Support – provide support to the child. Consider the developmental level of the child.

Reassure the child and say: “I am glad you told me,”

Here are some other things you can say to a child that has disclosed:

    • “You were brave to talk about this.”
    • “I am sorry that happened to you.”
    • “There are people who can help you.”
    • “I know people who may be able to help you.”

3. Do not – Do not make promises you cannot keep. You may be inclined to tell a child that you will keep them safe or their mother safe. You cannot make that promise. You do not know the full circumstances or the outcome of a CAS investigation.


4. What to do without contact information?

Without contact information, CAS is unable to respond.

Concerned about the safety and well-being of a child but don’t have contact information?

We all have a responsibility to be the eyes and ears of the community to look out for children and youth who may be at risk of harm. Perhaps you know a child or youth in danger or witnessed a serious incident against a child/youth. Your only option is to contact your local police dept non-emergency line. You will be directed to speak with a police officer who can help you.

Contact your local Police Department non-emergency line and speak with a police officer.

Explain the situation to the police officer. Provide as much detail and information as possible. The police will decide if they will respond. For the example above about Marko, the police may respond by contacting the principal of the school to access the contact information, regardless of the time of day. CAS needs some type of reasonable information to respond.

In some situations, you will need to contact 911 due to the information being an emergency and responders needing to attend to the household or location immediately. For example: You witness someone physically assaulting a child. A child is pulled or dragged or suspiciously taken into a vehicle. Calling 911 would be an appropriate course of action.

Remember, it is not your job to investigate whether abuse occurred or not, your job is to report suspected abuse. If you don’t have contact information, report it to the police, and they will decide how to gather the information to share with CAS.

The following are examples and what to do:

Neglect Example

You are going shopping at the mall with your friend. You get off the bus and walk through the parking lot to the main entrance. You walk by a car and see a baby in the car seat. You look around and don’t see anyone nearby. You wait for a while, hoping the parent will return. No one does. The baby starts to cry.

Do this:  It is neglectful to leave a baby unattended for any length of time. Leaving a baby in a car alone is dangerous. You do not have the name of the baby, the name of the caregivers, or the address of where the baby lives. This is a serious incident. You need to contact emergency services immediately. Call 911.

Force Example

You are at the park with your sister and her children. You see a woman with two young children, a toddler and another one about kindergarten age. She is quite possibly the mother of all of the children, although you don’t know for sure. She is packing up their belongings, and the toddler is visibly upset that they are leaving. The woman picks up the toddler and goes to put him in the stroller, but the older child has climbed in. While holding the toddler, she raises her voice at the child in the stroller. It looks like the woman is angry. You can’t hear exactly what is said, but the older child climbs out, starting to cry. You wish you could help as you know it can be difficult getting children to leave the park. She puts the now crying toddler into the stroller, and he climbs out when she turns to get her bag. At this point, you decide to start walking over, thinking you will casually say something like, “kids, huh, they are tricky” or “hey, need a hand catching these little monkeys”? You will decide what to say as you approach as you don’t want to appear judgmental or like you assume she can’t handle her own children.

As you approach her, she grabs the toddler that climbed out of the stroller and puts him into the stroller sternly, then hits his upper arm near his shoulder and says something. The child starts screaming and then crying. She grabs the kindergarten-age child, points a finger at his face and says something to him while looking very annoyed. The child responds, and then she hits him in the buttocks. With both children crying, she grabs the stroller and walks away quickly. You can’t believe what you just saw. You look around, wondering if anyone else saw what just happened. No one seems to be concerned, yet you are. You feel terrible as they walk away. You don’t know what to do because if you knew this woman, you would call CAS to report what she just did; however, you do not have her name, her contact information, or the names of the children.

Do this: This appears to be an example of excessive force to control children’s behaviour. According to Sec 43 of the Criminal Code of Canada, a parent or guardian standing in place of a parent can use force to correct a child’s behaviour if it is appropriate in the circumstances. However, the person cannot use force if they are angry. They also cannot use force if the child cannot learn from the use of force as a discipline strategy. It appears that, in this case, the woman is angry, and it is unlikely that the children learned a lesson in this situation.

Possibly the children are at risk of harm or further harm. Not knowing who they are or where they live precludes you from contacting CAS.

While this is an upsetting situation, it would not be a call to 911 (Emergency Services) because it is not an emergency.

You may call your local police department, such as the London Police Department’s non-emergency line, 519-661-5670, to speak with a Police Officer to report your concern and seek advice. They will decide whether it is appropriate to send officers to look for the woman and children.

If in doubt, you can call 911, and the Emergency Services Operator will decide if the situation warrants sending officers to respond.

We hope in these situations that, someone that knows this family will contact the CAS and that the caregiver will get the help that they need to parent the children more effectively.

Calling the police to report child abuse: You need to consider if what you saw or the information you have requires an immediate response from emergency services such as the police. Are the children in immediate danger? If you witness an incident and you believe children are in immediate danger but do not have contact information, call the police at 911. If it is not an emergency, you can call your local police department’s non-emergency line. Report what you saw and heard and any other identifying information. Police will decide if it is necessary to have a police officer respond immediately. If the police respond, they will gather the appropriate contact information and then involve the Children’s Aid Society (CAS).

It is also important to note that there are incidents of abuse that may be seen, and you are unable to do anything.


Deanna was riding the bus to work when she saw a woman on the bus point a finger at a young child and say, “shut the f**k up.” She was shocked and was thinking about what she could do if anything when the woman got up with the quietly crying child and got off the bus. As she exited the bus, the woman pushed the child who almost fell over. The child was crying as the bus drove away. Deanna was feeling badly about what she witnessed. Is it a concern? Is it a report to CAS? Is it a report to 911? Is it a report to the non-emergency police line?

Answer: It is a concern. This woman needs help, and so does this child. Is it a call to CAS? It is not a call to CAS because Deanna does not have any contact information. It is not a call to 911 emergency services because, it is not a serious, unexpected, dangerous situation requiring immediate action.  It is not a call to the non-emergency police line either because you don’t have enough information to support intervention by the police.  While the caregiver was inappropriate with the child, by the time the police responded, the caregiver and child would no longer be in the area.  We can only hope that someone who knows this woman will make the call to get this family some help.


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

Child Maltreatment: An Introductory Guide With Case Studies Copyright © 2023 by Susan Loosley and Jen Johnson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book