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Plan for Reporting Suspected Abuse
Organizations should clearly articulate policy about how reports of suspected sexual abuse should be made and processed. The policy should include specific information about to whom an initial report is made, in what format, and expectations about how the process will unfold. The policy should also be absolutely clear about the fact that staff should never investigate allegations. Investigations should always be left up to the proper authorities.
Important Policy Considerations
Care should be taken to ensure that a report does not have the potential to be buried by a single individual or group of individuals who may engage in overprotection of the organization or individuals at the expense of a child’s safety. Two policies that reduce this possibility are to require a group of individuals from different divisions of the organization to manage the allegation and to report back to the person who makes the initial report regarding the status of the allegation. This response team should NOT investigate the allegation – its job is to make sure the report is made and to make decision for the organization on how to communicate what has happened.
A report form will be necessary and should include the name and address of child and child’s parents or other person’s responsible for child, the child’s age, the nature and extent of the abuse, the alleged perpetrator, and other pertinent information.
It is essential to maintain confidentiality of written and oral reports in order to protect the identities of the child, family, and alleged abuser who are the subject of the report. Knowledge of the report should be restricted to a "need to know" basis and should include the reporter, response team, and the investigative agency (child protective services and/or law enforcement). When consulting with a child advocacy center or other community resources, disclosure of the identities of the subjects of an abuse report is not necessary until a referral is made to services by child protective services or other social service agency involved.
State child protection services or social service agencies must preserve the confidentiality of all child abuse and neglect reports and records to protect the privacy rights of the child and of the child's family except in certain limited circumstances.
Under the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA), any state that applies for federal funding for issues of child abuse must have provisions for immunity from prosecution for individuals who report suspicions of child abuse or neglect. Each state provides immunity from civil and criminal liability for persons who make a good faith report of suspected abuse or neglect.
The National Clearinghouse on Abuse and Neglect Information is an excellent web site for state law relevant to child abuse reporting.
These are individuals who are mandated by law to report child abuse and neglect. Each state has different laws so it’s important for any organization or person that works with children to know state mandated reporter law. Almost all states impose some sort of penalty on individuals who fail to report reasonable suspicions of child abuse. In some states, all citizens are mandated reporters; in other states, adults who hold certain positions are specifically indicated as mandated reporters.
Many states have toll free hotlines where abuse can be reported. States differ with regard to the agency to whom reports should be made. In most states, sexual abuse within the family should be reported to Child Protective Services, and sexual abuse outside of the family should be reported to law enforcement. Regardless, the agency that receives the call will be able to direct the call to the appropriate place.
Status of Reports
In some states, reports can be made anonymously. If reports can be anonymous and are made by phone, it is advisable to have a witness present when the report is made so that the report can be verified. Reports that are made by an identified caller are more likely to be processed.
Each state has its own statutory definition of child sexual abuse and these should be described in organizational policy.
Statute of Limitations
This refers to the amount of time that can pass before a report is made. Again, consult the Clearinghouse web site for state-by-state information.