- Describe and follow appropriate reporting procedures.
- List the information that should be provided when making a report of suspected child abuse or neglect.
- Prepare yourself for the emotions and events that follow a report of child abuse or neglect.
Although you do not work with children directly on a daily basis, you have a legal and ethical obligation to report suspicions of child abuse and neglect. Think about Kate, who you met in the Explore section of the previous lessons. Think about the day her caregiver noticed the bruises and scrapes on her body. As a support staff member, if you noticed unusual marks on a child or witnessed a family member or staff member treating a child harshly, would you know what to do to help? Would you know exactly who to call and what to say? Would you take action like the staff members in Kate’s story did? By the end of this lesson, we hope you will answer “yes” to all these questions. The specific procedures and policies for reporting suspected child abuse and neglect varies across states. This lesson will provide an overview of reporting procedures, but you will be responsible for identifying your specific reporting procedures in the Apply section of this lesson.
Making the Report
How to report child abuse
If you witness violence or know someone is in immediate danger, call 911 or the military police if you are on an installation.
If you suspect a child is being abused or neglected, you must make a report to local child protective services or law enforcement. You can find out where to call by visiting the Child Welfare Information Gateway’s state reporting numbers website: https://www.childwelfare.gov/organizations/?CWIGFunctionsaction=rols:main.dspList&rolType=Custom&RS_ID=5
Call the reporting number relevant to your state and provide the following information:
- Name of victim
- Name and contact information for parents or guardians
- Reasons for suspected abuse or neglect
- Description and location of victim’s physical injuries (if applicable)
- Information freely disclosed by victim
- Current location of victim
- Known information regarding incident or chronology of events
After the Report
Reporting suspected child abuse or neglect can be a stressful event. It is important to mentally prepare yourself for what happens after the call.
In most states, the report will be evaluated by child protective services. If there is enough evidence to warrant an investigation, a caseworker will initiate the investigation. Children, families, and caregivers may be contacted and interviewed. Child protective services will determine whether the claim is substantiated and whether the child is safe in the home. If the report of abuse involves alleged criminal acts, law enforcement will be contacted, and the investigation will be conducted jointly.
Regardless of where you live or where you work, it is unlikely you will ever hear the results of the report. Confidentiality laws protect the families’ privacy. Also know that it is not uncommon for families to withdraw their child from the program after an allegation of abuse. The report may be the last piece of information you have about a child’s situation, but you should feel confident that you have fulfilled your obligations. If the child and the family remain in your program, you and the management team can help the family build strength by enhancing protective factors in the program and community.
You might be worried you could be sued or punished for making a report. This is not the case. All mandated reporters are protected by law. A family cannot sue a mandated reporter for making a report in good faith. Likewise, you cannot be retaliated against by another staff member for making a report in good faith about a suspected incident in your program.
Common Concerns that Prevent Staff Members from Making Reports:
We live in a small Community. Will my report ruin the parent’s career?
You might worry that reporting suspected child abuse or neglect might impact a person’s career or get the individual fired. This can make some people hesitant to make a report, but you should know that Child Protective Services, want to keep victims of abuse safe. They also want to help families work through their parenting issues so they can develop healthier relationships . Thinking about what happens to the career of a family member has no legal bearing on the requirement to report suspected child abuse or neglect.
I don’t want to turn in my coworker.
When you suspect a coworker or program partner of child abuse or neglect, you might find yourself in an uncomfortable situation. You might fear you are turning in your coworker, and this is hard. However, remember your responsibility to keep children safe. You are a mandated reporter and must report your suspicions. Failure to do so can have devastating consequences for children. Remember that you cannot be retaliated against in the workplace for your report, and your program administrators will work with management to make sure you feel comfortable making the report. Talk to someone you trust if you need support.
I am not sure if it was abuse, what if I overreacted?
When you suspect a coworker or family member of child abuse or neglect, it is normal to doubt yourself, especially when the consequences can be so serious. This course is meant to provide you with the information to help you make the decision about whether a report is necessary. You might be overreacting but maybe you’re not. Don’t worry about overreacting, if you have suspicion, make the report. You could be saving child’s life.
If I make a report, the suspected abuser will know that it was me.
You might feel like it will be obvious who made the report and you may fear retaliation from your coworker or a family member in the program. This is a normal and valid concern. However, when you report suspected child abuse or neglect, you have the option to remain anonymous. The more information that you can provide about the child and what was observed the better, but you don’t have to reveal your name during this call.
How Reporting Abuse or Neglect Might Affect Staff Members
You may feel a range of emotions after making a report: frustration, anger, disappointment, nervousness, or relief. All these emotions are expected. Make sure you have someone to talk to and to help you deal with the emotions you are feeling. The following video helps explain what you might experience after a report and how others can help.
As you learned in Lesson One, you have an obligation to report a suspected case of abuse or neglect. It is not your job to identify the abuser. If you suspect abuse, you need to make a report and allow investigators to determine if abuse or neglect is occurring.
- Observe children for signs of abuse or neglect.
- Be familiar with reporting procedures for your state.
- Post reporting procedures in your classroom or know where they are posted in your program.
- Prepare yourself for the call. Be sure you have the correct spelling of the child’s legal name, the address of the child’s parents or guardians, and all the details outlined earlier in this lesson.
- If you suspect abuse or neglect, you can call the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453). This line is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and can help you find emergency resources.
- Be familiar with resources and supports available to help with the emotions you might feel after making a report. Reporting child abuse and neglect is never an easy thing to do. It is never comfortable for anyone who must grapple with the idea of a child being in danger. The best we can do, though, is to help one another feel supported and prepared to take the right steps and protect a child.
You have a responsibility to recognize the signs of abuse and neglect and report suspicions of abuse and neglect by following the specific procedures outlined by your installation. Complete the Responding to Child Abuse and Neglect activity. Read the scenarios and reflect on how you would respond. Compare your answers with the suggested responses.
Because reporting requirements and procedures vary widely, you must know the specific procedures for making a report in your workplace. Review how to complete each section of the My Program’s Reporting Procedures activity with a trainer, coach, or administrator. Complete it with information relevant to your program. Then, you can download and print the Child Abuse: Doesn't Report Itself Department of Defense Hotline Reporting Poster. This should be posted in your program for families and visitors to see.
My Program's Reporting Procedures
Browne, C. H. (2014). The Strengthening Families Approach and Protective Factors Framework: Branching Out and Reaching Deeper. Washington, D.C.: Center for the Study of Social Policy. https://cssp.org/resource/the-strengthening-families-approach-and-protective-factors-framework-branching-out-and-reaching-deeper/
Center for the Study of Social Policy (2020). Strengthening Families: A Protective Factors Framework. https://cssp.org/our-work/projects/protective-factors-framework/
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (n.d.). Violence Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/
Karageorge, K. & Kendall, R. (2008). The Role of Professional Child Care Providers in Preventing and Responding to Child Abuse and Neglect. Office on Child Abuse and Neglect, Children’s Bureau.
Military Once Source. (n.d.). Military Family Advocacy Programs. http://www.militaryonesource.mil/abuse/service-providers
Seibel, N. L., Britt, D., Gillespie, L. G., & Parlakian, R. (2006). Preventing Child Abuse and Neglect. Washington, DC: Zero to Three: Center for Infants, Toddlers and Families.
Zero to Three: Center for Infants, Toddlers and Families. (2006). The Prevalence of Child Abuse and Neglect. https://www.zerotothree.org/resources/91-the-prevalence-of-child-abuse-and-neglect