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Reporting Child Abuse and Neglect

As a program staff member, you are a mandated reporter. This means that you are legally bound to report your suspicions of child abuse or neglect. It is your job to know the signs and make the call that could save a child’s life. This lesson will give you information to help you prepare for and make a report of child abuse or neglect.

  • Describe and follow internal and external reporting procedures for your workplace.
  • 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.



Think about Timothy, whom you met in the Explore section of the previous lessons. Think about the day his caregiver noticed the burns on his shoulders. If he were a child in your program, would you know what to do to help? Would you know exactly who to call and what to say? Would you take action like Timothy’s caregivers 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 MIL, services, and installations. 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.

Department of Defense Requirements for Reporting

You play a key role in ensuring the health, safety, and well-being of the children and youth under your care and supervision. If you suspect child abuse, making a call to your installation's Family Advocacy Program, your Reporting Point of Contact (RPOC) in Army programs, Child Protective Services, and law enforcement is a moral and legal obligation.  All individuals working or volunteering with children and teens in a DoD-sponsored facility or activity are mandated to report suspected child abuse or neglect to the installation Family Advocacy Program (FAP), the DoD program designated to address child abuse and neglect in military families. In addition, Department of Defense personnel who are considered “covered professionals” are required to report suspected child abuse and neglect, regardless of whether the incident occurred on or off the installation, to the appropriate local Child Protective Services (CPS) agency, and law enforcement. CPS investigates the allegation, and FAP works in collaboration with CPS to ensure the safety of the child and to provide treatment and resources for the parents, as appropriate. You should ensure you are following your installation’s reporting policies and procedures, informing your chain of command when a report is made. Department of Defense policy and, in many cases, federal and state laws require you to report suspected child abuse. Ideally, a report will prompt early intervention before a child is hurt. The following information will help you take the important steps in contacting FAP, CPS, and law enforcement and understand how those calls are assessed.

How to report child abuse

If you know or suspect a child has been abused or neglected, whether by a parent or staff member/provider/volunteer on or off an installation, follow your Service’s procedures for reporting your concern to the installation FAP, CPS agency, and law enforcement officials. You can also call your state's child abuse reporting hotline, or Childhelp at 1-800-4-A-CHILD (422-4453).

Each installation that supports military families has a FAP point of contact to receive calls concerning the safety and welfare of children. The number to call is publicized throughout the military community. You can also call your installation's Family Support Center or visit the Military Installation’s website for information.

Assessing reports of child abuse

In most States, child abuse calls can be made anonymously to Child Protective Services (CPS) and your installation’s FAP, however the contact information of the reporting person is almost always collected. As mandated reporters, you should provide your contact information for documentation and follow-up purposes.  When suspected abuse is reported, a team will assess the safety and welfare of the child.

When Family Advocacy Program personnel receive a call concerning the safety and welfare of a child, they ensure that everyone who is capable of protecting the safety and well-being of the child (the active duty member's commander, law enforcement, the medical treatment facility and CPS) is aware of the risk and protective factors that are affecting the family. These community members often work as a team to ensure that children are protected, the parents receive appropriate intervention and the family receives the services they need to be able to form more healthy relationships. FAP and CPS will not share the identity of the individual who made the report with the family.

Civilian CPS also responds to calls concerning the safety and welfare of children. They will most likely visit the identified child (they might go to the child's program or home), and they will also interview the child's parents. If they determine there is no evidence of abuse, the case will likely be closed. In some cases, FAP or CPS may refer the family for counseling if they feel the family's life circumstances place them at risk for abuse or neglect.

If Child Protective Services determines that abuse or neglect did occur, the civilian family court system will become involved. Sometimes, the judge will appoint a guardian ad litem to represent the child's interests. This attorney will review all available information and evidence from law enforcement, FAP and CPS and make recommendations to the court based on what he or she believes is in the child's best interest.

If the local civilian law enforcement agency is involved and its investigation finds that abuse occurred, misdemeanor or felony criminal charges may be brought. If a service member is convicted of a criminal offense in civilian court, the military may still decide to proceed with a court-martial hearing or other disciplinary action, including separation from the service.

Child abuse at a DoD-sponsored facility or activity

The Department of Defense makes every effort to ensure the safety and well-being of children involved in Defense facilities such as schools, child development centers, or Department of Defense-sponsored activities, such as youth sports or recreation programs. This includes conducting thorough background checks and training all staff and volunteers involved with these facilities and programs.

If there is a report of child sexual abuse within a Department of Defense-sponsored activity, the Family Advocacy Command Assistance Team may be assigned to provide an immediate response. This team helps the local installation team assess the situation, develop an investigation strategy, gather evidence for possible prosecution, address the needs of victims and their families and restore public confidence in the facility or activity.

Your program has worked with the installation Family Advocacy Program manager to establish procedures for reporting suspected child abuse and neglect. These procedures state whom you report to, what information to provide, and what to do after reporting. Make sure you are familiar with the procedures on your installation. In most cases, you will first report your suspicions to management personnel in your program. Management will notify regulatory authorities (fire, health, safety, FAP, CPS, and law enforcement). Child and Youth Services personnel report by calling the reporting point of contact (RPOC) and providing the following information:

Your service has specific procedures that describe whom you report to, what information to provide, and what to do after reporting. Make sure you are familiar with the procedures on your installation. In the Apply section, you will have an opportunity to record your program’s specific procedures. In U.S. Air Force programs, you are required to report all suspected child abuse and neglect both by telephone and in writing to the Family Advocacy Officer. Be prepared to share:

Your service has specific procedures that describe whom you report to, what information to provide, and what to do after reporting. Make sure you are familiar with the procedures on your installation. In the Apply section, you will have an opportunity to record your program’s specific procedures. In Marine Corps programs, the Component Commander/Commander Supporting Establishment has developed a plan of action for forwarding all reports of child abuse or neglect to Commandant of the Marine Corps (MR). Follow your installation’s reporting procedures. Be prepared to share:

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:

Call the reporting number relevant to your state and provide the following information:

  • Name of victim
  • Age 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
  • You may be asked if you are a mandated reporter (several states require mandated reporters to disclose their identity)  
  • You may be asked if you would like to disclose your identity

As a mandated reporter, it is good practice to document your call with details such as: 

  • Who you spoke to 
  • What time you made the call 
  • What information you were able to provide

After the Call

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, your 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. CPS 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.

On military installations, the following will occur after a report has been made:

After a report has been received, the FAP must report immediately and directly to the appropriate civilian agency in accordance with the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the installation and local authorities as required by State or host nation laws. In most communities in the United States, Child Protective Services (CPS) is the agency designated to receive reports of child maltreatment. Overseas, the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with a host nation defines how investigation and prosecution of crimes committed on installations will be handled.

FAP will complete a social work assessment of the incident and will present the information to the installation Incident Determination Committee (formerly known as the Case Review Committee). The IDC is composed of installation legal, law enforcement, and social work staff, and the command representative for the agency or sponsor. The installation medical staff and civilian CPS agencies and their counterparts in host countries may participate as well to provide information on incidents that involve their response. This committee is responsible for making a determination of whether the incident meets the DoD definition of child abuse or neglect. If the incident meets the criteria (substantiated), FAP develops a treatment plan for the child and family as appropriate. FAP coordinates with law enforcement authorities to assess the referral. FAP is an important team member of the coordinated response to suspected child abuse and neglect. At the same time, FAP in coordination with CPS takes steps to protect the child and provide the family with counseling or other assistance.

When a report of suspected sexual abuse involves multiple victims in an out-of-home care setting at an installation in the United States or overseas, the DoD may deploy a Family Advocacy Command Assistance Team (FACAT). Under the Commander’s supervision, the FACAT assists in investigation, assessment, and case management.

When a report of suspected abuse involves a staff member, the alleged offender will be reassigned to a position without child contact until a determination is made if the referral meets or does not meet the criteria or definition of child abuse or neglect. Once you have made a report to your RPOC (in most cases, FAP or CPS), you have fulfilled your legal reporting requirements. After a report, your RPOC will:

  • Notify the Military Police if they have not already been notified.
  • Notify the Chief, SWS/CRC chairperson, so a timely report can be made to the commander and a case manager assigned.
  • Notify the local Inspector General’s office in allegations involving general officers, promotable colonels, and Senior Executive Services civilians.
  • Notify the Child and Youth Services coordinator when a report involves child abuse alleged to have occurred in a Child and Youth Services quarter or facility-based operation or involved a Child and Youth Services employee.
  • Notify the Family Advocacy Program manager who is responsible for notifying the chain of command.
  • Based on local memorandums of agreement with a host nation, local child protective services, and local law enforcement, the RPOC may have additional notification requirements.

Regardless of where you live or where you work, it is unlikely you will ever hear the results of your 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 you made may be the last piece of information you have about a child’s situation, but you should feel confident that you fulfilled your responsibilities. If the child and the family remain in your program, your team can continue to help and support the family by focusing on enhancing protective factors in the family and community.

Sometimes caregivers worry that they could be sued or punished for making a report. This is not the case. You are protected by law as a mandated reporter. A family cannot sue you for making a report in good faith. Likewise, you cannot be retaliated against for making a report in good faith about a suspected incident in your program.

Common Concerns that Prevent Staff Members from Making Reports:

1. We live in a small community. Will my report ruin the parent’s career?

Child development program staff members sometimes worry that reporting suspected child abuse or neglect might impact aMIL Service member’s career or get the individual “fired.” This can make staff members hesitant to make a reportMIL, but you should know that FAP and command want to keep victims of abuse safe. But they also want to help families work through their parenting issues so service members can develop healthier relationships and stay in the military services whenever possible. Thinking about what happens to the military career of a family member has no legal bearing on the requirement to report suspected child abuse or neglect.

When an allegation of child abuse meets criteria for the Department of Defense definition of abuse or neglect, FAP assesses the needs of the child and family and recommends a treatment plan. Commanders have sole discretion in determining any administrative or disciplinary action taken against active duty abusers. The commander will consider advice from legal counsel and evidence presented by law enforcement before making a decision. Although the military prefers to help families and retain service members, in some cases a service member will be separated due to the severity of the abuse, results of military or civilian court proceedings, or the service member's failure to comply with treatment recommendations and orders from command.

2. I don’t want to “turn in” my co-worker

When you suspect a co-worker or team member of child abuse or neglect, you might find yourself in an uncomfortable situation. You might feel like you are “turning in” your co-worker, and this is hard. Remember, though, that it is your job to keep children safe. You are a mandated reporter and must report your suspicions. Failure to do so can have devastating consequences for children and for yourself. Remember, you cannot be retaliated against in the workplace for your report. Talk to someone you trust if you need support.

3. What if I’m wrong, what if it’s not abuse?

As a school age staff, it is your duty to report, even if it is just a suspicion. You are not responsible to fully investigate the situation. As a staff member it is your role to report observed abuse/neglect, AND suspicion. It is your role to keep children safe. Talking with a supervisor can provide guidance on reporting. Remember, you do not need to make the call alone. If your supervisor is involved in the abuse/neglect, follow the chain of command to the person above them. The important thing is to make the call, even if it is suspicion.

4. Will they tell the family I was the one to make the report?

All jurisdictions have provisions in statute to maintain the confidentiality of abuse and neglect records. The identity of the reporter is specifically protected from disclosure to the individual suspected of abuse in 44 States, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, and Puerto Rico. This protection is maintained even when other information from the report may be disclosed. Release of the reporter’s identity is allowed in some jurisdictions under specific circumstances or to specific departments or officials, for example, when information is needed for conducting an investigation or family assessment or upon a finding that the reporter knowingly made a false report. In six States, the District of Columbia, and Guam, the reporter can waive confidentiality and give consent to the release of their name.

How Reporting Abuse or Neglect Might Affect You

You will feel a range of emotions after making a report: frustrated, angry, disappointed, nervous, relieved. All of these emotions are expected. Make sure you talk to someone to help you deal with the emotions you are feeling. The following video helps explain what you might experience after a report and how you can get help.

After the Report: Emotions

Learn about recognizing and dealing with the emotions of a report


Watch this video to learn more about reporting procedures from the Family Advocacy Program.

Family Advocacy Program: Reporting Procedures

Watch this video to learn more about reporting procedures from the Family Advocacy Program.

Now learn about what to expect after the call.

Family Advocacy Program: What to Expect After the Report

Watch this video to learn more about what happens after you make a report


As you learned in Lesson 1, you have a responsibility 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, host nation, or installation.
  • 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.
  • Find Service-specific guidance for making a report of child abuse or neglect in the attachments at the end of this Learn section.


Reread the scenarios in the Reflecting on Abuse and Neglect activity in which individuals suspected Timothy was being abused. Be sure to notice the additional information about what the adults in each situation did. Then answer the reflection questions and share your responses with a coach, trainer, or administrator. Review the suggested answer key responses for additional reflection.


Because reporting requirements and procedures vary widely, you must know the specific procedures for making a report in your workplace. Download the Reporting Suspected Cases of Child Abuse or Neglect: Procedures in my Program activity. Talk to your administrator and complete each section. Store or post the document in an accessible area of your room.

Also, make sure you have the most up-to-date Department of Defense Hotline reporting poster. You can download and print it to post in your classroom or program.

Understanding your legal obligation and reporting process for suspected child abuse or neglect is critical in keeping children safe from harm. Staff working toward their CDA credential should complete the Child Abuse & Neglect Legal Requirements & Mandatory Reporting Guidelines handout to provide summaries of the legal requirements regarding child abuse, neglect and mandatory reporting.


Child Protective Services. In most states, CPS receives and investigates reports of child abuse and neglect
Family Advocacy Program. This office is responsible for responding to reports of child abuse and neglect on military installations
Incident Determination Committee or Case Review Committee. This committee evaluates the information and determines whether child abuse and neglect occurred
Mandated reporter:
Professionals who are legally required to report suspicions of child abuse and neglect. You are a mandated reporter
Reporting point of contact:
A term used by Army programs. The person or agency you contact to report your suspicions of abuse or neglect. Each installation has a reporting point of contact (RPOC)


True or false? After making a report of child abuse or neglect, you will always receive the results of the investigation.
If you witness violence or know someone is in immediate danger, whom should you call first?
True or false? Reports of suspected child abuse and neglect can be made anonymously.
True or false? If you make a report of child abuse or neglect, you are protected as a mandated reporter.
Janine, your friend and co-worker, calls you crying on a Saturday. She says she saw one of the fathers from your classroom at the store. He was in the parking lot screaming at his children. He pulled the 2-year-old behind the car and hit him hard with a closed fist. She knows other people saw, but she does not know if anyone did anything. What do you think Janine should do?
References & Resources

Center for the Study of Social Policy (2021). Strengthening Families: A Protective Factors Framework.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2013). Violence Prevention.

Child Welfare Information Gateway. (2019). Mandatory reporters of child abuse and neglect. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Children's Bureau. for making a report

Military OneSource. (n.d.). Domestic Abuse, Child Abuse and Neglect. Military OneSource.

Seibel, N. L., Britt, D., Gillespie, L. G., & Parlakian, R. (2006). Preventing Child Abuse and Neglect. Zero to Three: Center for Infants, Toddlers and Families.