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Frequently Asked Questions About Mandatory Reporting

What is a mandated reporter?

All states designate certain professionals as mandated reporters.  A mandated reporter is one who is required by law to report reasonable suspicions of abuse.  Check your state mandatory reporting laws to determine if your profession is designated as a mandated reporter.  Mandated reporters typically include social workers, teachers, health care workers, child care providers, law enforcement, mental health professionals, among others but keep in mind that some states designate all citizens as mandated reporters.  Regardless of specific mandated reporters, all persons can and should always reports suspected abuse.   It is the job of all adults to protect children. 

What should I do if a child discloses abuse to me?

When a child is reporting abuse to you, it is very important that you listen to the child without judgment, anger or disbelief.  Tell the child that you believe them and it is not their fault.  Listen attentively and ask only open ended questions, like "then what happened?".  Do not ask leading questions as this can confuse the child's memory of events and could contaminate the investigation.  The important information helpful in making the report is what happened, where it happened, and by whom.  Do not probe for details.  It is best for a trained investigator to gather all the facts.  Do not give the child false assurances or promise to keep the information confidential.  Then, contact your local child protective services or law enforcement to make the report.  Regardless of whether you are mandated by the state you live in by your profession to report child abuse, any responsible adult with knowledge or reasonable suspicion of abuse can and should report it to the proper authorities. 

How do I report sexual abuse in my state?

The laws vary by state on who to make a report to; sometimes child protective services or a department of family and child services of your county or law enforcement.  However, it is always appropriate to contact your local law enforcement to report abuse.  Your state law may also specify when the report is to be made; usually immediately after having reason to believe or no later than 24 or 48 hours.  Some states may require that a written report be submitted as a follow-up to your called-in report. 

When should I make a report? 

Most state law indicates that a report should be made when there is reason to believe that a child is in danger of being harmed or is being harmed.   You should make the report as soon as you have reason to believe or receive a disclosure.  You do not need to have proof and knowledge beyond a reasonable doubt that abuse is occurring.  Some state laws indicate "reasonable suspicion" as necessary for the report.  Again, this means that you do not have to have proof just knowledge to reasonably suspect abuse.  Do not wait for proof or more information to make a report.  

State law will dictate how soon you are required to make the report.  Some state laws specify that a report must be made immediately after you have reason to believe; some state laws specify within 24 or 48 hours.  Sometimes you may be asked to also submit a written report after calling in.   In addition to making the report to the appropriate authority, follow your employer's procedures regarding notification to supervisors.  If you believe a child to be in danger, call law enforcement immediately and state that you believe the child to be in imminent danger. 

Am I liable if I make a report and it is not substantiated?

No.  Those persons making a report in good faith are protected from liability.

What information will I need to provide when making a report?

At a minimum, you will need to provide the name, address, and age of the child, the name(s) and address(es) of the parents or guardians, and the nature of the abuse.  The name of the perpetrator and the relationship to the child as well as any other details of the abuse can be helpful.  Remember that it is not your job to investigate the abuse.  Law enforcement or child protective services will perform the investigation. 

Do I need to provide my name when making a report?

You do not need to provide your name unless you are a mandated reporter and required to do so by the law in your state; however in all cases mandated reporters contact information is confidential and protected by law.  While anonymous reports are allowable, it is helpful to provide your name in the event that further information is needed.

What are the penalties for not making a report?

A person who is required to report child abuse and who fails to do so has committed a crime.  Penalties vary by state.  Your state law defines the type of crime as well as imprisonment and/or any fines imposed.

What if I think I don't have enough information to make a report?

It is always best to err on the side of the child.  The agency you are reporting to will help determine if there is enough information to proceed.  If there is not, the report remains on file.  If you receive additional information you can always call back and add to the report.  If additional reports are made for that same child, then sometimes, multiple reports can lead to an investigation. 

Should I tell the parents of my report?

It is best not to contact parents about your suspicions before making a report.  Doing so could result in retribution against the child, destruction of evidence, or temporary removal of a perpetrator from the home.  Under some conditions you may need to maintain open communication with the parent.  When this happens, never accuse a parent of wrongdoing and explain that you are legally responsible to report.

Why don't people report suspected abuse?

There are many reasons why adults don't report and some of these reasons have been brought to light with recent cases that are receiving widespread media attention.  Possible reasons people fail to report include:

  • Confusion about reporting responsibilities as a mandated reporter
  • Don't know the warning signs of abuse
  • Don't want to get involved
  • Fear of being wrong
  • Fear of reprisal by family or community
  • Fear of damaging reputation

Reporting suspected abuse takes courage.  Regardless of whether you are mandated to report in your state, all responsible adults should report abuse.  It is the job as adults to protect children.

Will broadening mandated reporter laws and stiffening penalties help stop abuse?

Numerous states have pending legislation stiffening their child protection laws in response to recent cases brought to our attention through the media.  The problem of child abuse is complex and it's resolution is going to take a combination of approaches.  Reporting laws alone do not fix the problem.  Laws can help but awareness and education will have to accompany law changes.  If you want to become more educated about how to recognize and react responsibly to child sexual abuse, check out Stewards of Children.