Therapy Guidelines
Handling Disclosures of Child Sexual Abuse
British Columbia, Canada

By Duanita G. Eleniak, MSW RCSW ATR BCATR RCAT

One of the most common areas in the field of trauma where new therapists require guidance is regarding how to handle disclosures of child sexual abuse. Following are general guidelines to assist you. Remember, always consult with your supervisor, agency or consultant since each situation you encounter will have unique characteristics.

Limits Of Confidentiality:

The BC Child Family and Community Service Act (CFCS Act) requires anyone who suspects that a child is being abused to report this to the Ministry of Social Services & Housing (the nearest MCFD office to where the child resides, Emergency Services, or Zenith 1234-the Helpline for Children). If you fail to do this, it is considered a criminal offence and you could be fined up to $10,000.00 and/or six months in jail. You cannot say that you received the information about child abuse in confidence (unless you are a lawyer and you received the information from a client) and use this as an excuse for not reporting suspicion of abuse.

You can make a report even if you are not sure of the details and you cannot be sued as long as you honestly believed that a child was in danger. You may report anonymously.

Responding To A Disclosure

Am I the first person that my client is telling? If a client starts talking about child sexual abuse the first thing you want to know is if it has been reported or not. If it has been reported then you have no obligation to do so again. Simply find out who the abuse was reported to and document this information. If you are the first person to find out:

1. Ensure that your client knows that if you are told the story you are obligated to report.
2. Employ all your skills and knowledge about helpful responses. (See handout on Helpful Responses).
3. Ascertain who the offender is, what happened, where and when. You need to assess the immediacy of the situation, specifically, the safety of the child’s current living situation and the possible need for immediate medical attention:

a. Is the child in danger presently? For example, if you find out that a child is being sexually abused by her father at home then she is in danger if she goes home.
b. Is medical intervention necessary immediately? Is the child of child bearing age? Is there a possibility of pregnancy/venereal disease? Is there a possibility of gathering medical legal evidence?
4. Document the information well.
5. Report the situation to your supervisor/agency.
6. Report the situation to the Ministry and/or the Police.

Who Do I Report To?

In consultation with your supervisor/agency, you will report cases of child sexual abuse to the Ministry and/or the Police. The Ministry is generally involved if the child is in need of protection in their home. They have the ability to remove a child from an unsafe living situation if need be. The Police are generally involved in every situation of child sexual abuse because it is a crime. Usually the police and child protection services work together and inform each other of situations requiring action.

Which police to report to will depend upon the location of the offence. Which ministry office for child protection to call will depend on the location the child is currently living at.

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