Introduction Link
Appendix A
Local Contacts and Services
Early Identification

Sharing Sensitive News     • Suspecting Maltreatment

Sharing Sensitive News

Q How can I share sensitive news with parents?

As a professional working with children from 0 - 6, effective communication with families is essential. If a child consistently fails to meet specific milestones or does not follow the expected developmental sequence, or if other at-risk indicators in a child’s development are noticed, parents need to be informed about these concerns so that positive next steps can be taken. Nevertheless, it is often difficult to relay these types of concerns to parents. Here are a few tips for talking to families about observed delays in a child’s normal development:

  • Show genuine caring and compassion when talking with families. The news that is shared with them may cause considerable anxiety and fear.
  • Remind parents that they know their child best, and are their child’s first and most important teacher.
  • Invite parents to share anything that they’ve noticed in their child’s development that they may have some questions about.
  • Begin by sharing some of the child’s strengths and positive behaviours.
  • Present your concerns in a professional manner.
  • Explain to parents that through observation of their child, certain patterns of development have been noted that may need to be investigated further. Cite some specific factual examples from your observation notes.
  • Highlight the expected milestones for the child’s particular age for comparison. Professionals may wish to share with parents the printed Children’s Development by Age section of this guide, the NDDS or other relevant resources.
  • Explain the range of possibilities for supporting the child (e.g., referral, assessment, treatment), and how each of these positive steps can help address the child’s challenge(s).
  • Explain the consequences of non-action, and how a “wait and see” approach can lead to more serious outcomes for their child.
  • Enlist the support of parents to plan a course of action for their child, and set concrete next steps. Remind parents that the final decision rests with them, and that your role is to provide information, support, and guidance.
  • Provide the family with time to share their thoughts and feelings, if they are ready. Listen with patience and understanding.
  • Thank parents for their support, and reassure them that you or other staff are available for any additional assistance that may be needed.
  • Provide parents with available resources, brochures, website addresses, or contact numbers, so that they can do some additional investigation on their own. (TeKolste, 2009; First Signs, 2009)
Q How can I handle and support difficult, angry or upset parents?

First of all, it is important to share sensitive news with parents in private and without making the parents feel rushed. There must be time for parents to ask questions and express their feelings. Here are a few other tips that can de-escalate a difficult situation:
  • Find a space that provides privacy
  • Stay calm
  • Focus on the positive
  • Acknowledge that the parents are upset or angry
  • Ask the parents what they are feeling and if they have questions
  • Listen actively to what they have to say
  • Offer a second meeting to allow parents to calm down and think about what you have said
  • Help parents feel involved in the solution to the problem
Q What can I do if parents do not want to follow up on my recommendations?

There are many reasons why parents may not follow your recommendations. They may not trust your advice or may just simply lack transportation, time or money to carry out your recommendations. Don’t take it personally, but explore the situation. Whenever possible, give parents more than one option. If the child has delays in several areas, or if you think she would benefit from multiple interventions, ask the parents what interventions they think are more critical. Parents may feel overwhelmed if they have been given a list of many recommendations.

  • Here are some steps that may help to engage parents:
  • Explain the situation
  • Explain why an intervention may be warranted
  • Explain what services are available
  • Ask the parents how they see the situation and what they are able to do
  • Make a plan together with the parents or provide them with a written list of options
  • Offer to have a follow-up meeting to assess progress

Suspecting Child Maltreatment

Q When do I need to call child protection services?

As professionals working with children and families, you have a legal responsibility and duty to report, if you have "reasonable grounds to suspect" any type of child maltreatment. This can include physical harm, neglect, emotional harm, sexual abuse or exploitation, including pornography (Child and Family Services Act, 1990). Please call your local Child Protection Services immediately if you have a concern and need further direction or information with these types of situations. To find your local child protection agency check the Ontario Association of Children's Aid Societies at Once contacted, the child protection agency will make a risk assessment, while other involved professionals continue to support the child and family.

Reporting Child Abuse and Neglect: It's Your Duty