- Describe and enforce internal and external reporting procedures.
- Describe actions to be taken in response to an allegation, including cooperation with investigators and documentation procedures.
- Describe procedures for distinguishing between a policy infraction and an instance of child abuse or neglect.
- Maintain program records and provide access to administrative files for the purposes of investigation.
- Post and publicize reporting procedures in your programs.
Although you do not work in classrooms on a daily basis, you have a legal and ethical obligation to report suspicions of child abuse and neglect. You also have a professional responsibility to help staff members meet their own legal reporting obligations.
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 collaborating with your installation’s FAP, CPS, and law enforcement to develop standard operating procedures for reporting. Your standard operating procedures related to reporting suspicions of child abuse or neglect should (Child Welfare Information Gateway, 2013):
- Identify whom the staff member should notify within the child care program if there are suspicions (e.g., the director or another coordinator of child maltreatment issues).
- List the specific information that the staff member needs in order to make a report.
- Describe how the report is to be made, including who is to make the report to CPS , FAP, and law enforcement.
- List any other program personnel who should be involved or be notified if a report is made (e.g., the program director, commander, headquarters).
- State who will talk with the children or the parents when a report is filed.
- Specify who will submit documentation, such as observation notes or anecdotal records, to investigators or other agencies.
- State who will be responsible for monitoring or receiving communication or feedback from CPS , FAP, and law enforcement once the report has been filed.
- State who is responsible for communicating with the media, if necessary, for cases where a child fatality or a child abuse accusation has been in the press.
- Identify plans for the alternative placement of accused staff while an investigation is taking place.
- Specify support for staff if the accusation of abuse or neglect is unsubstantiated or unfounded.
- Detail support for staff who are requested to testify in court.
- State who will follow up to determine the outcome of the report (if applicable).
The remainder of this lesson will provide general guidelines for reporting procedures. Remember, you will be expected to collaborate with your local authorities your installation’s FAP office to develop specific procedures for your program. This lesson concludes with information about support and following-up after a report is made.
Supervise & Support
Making the Report
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.
How reports of child abuse are assessed
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.
Although standard operating procedures vary across installations, staff members will first report their suspicions to you in most cases. It is then your responsibility to notify regulatory authorities (fire, health, safety, FAP, CPS and law enforcement). 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 Army programs, Child and Youth Services personnel report by calling the reporting point of contact (RPOC) and providing the following information:
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:
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 or staff members 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. 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, 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, 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 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 and program staff 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.
Sometimes staff members worry that they 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, staff members 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:
Will my report ruin the family member's career?
Staff members sometimes worry that reporting suspected child abuse or neglect might impact a MILService member’s career or get the individual “fired.” This can make staff members hesitant to make a report, but they should know that Child Protective Services, FAP, and command want to keep victims of abuse safe. They also want to help families work through their parenting issues so they 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.
I don’t want to “turn in” my co-worker.
When a staff member suspects a co-worker or program partner of child abuse or neglect, you might find yourself in an uncomfortable situation. Staff members might feat that they are “turning in” their co-worker, and this is hard. You should remind staff of their responsibility to keep children safe. Staff members are mandated reporter sand must report their suspicions. Failure to do so can have devastating consequences for children and for the staff member. Remind staff members they cannot be retaliated against in the workplace for their report, and you will work with management to make sure they feel comfortable making the report. Talk to someone you trust if you need support.
What if I’m wrong, what if it’s not abuse?
Teach staff members that they have a legal responsibility to report, even if it is just a suspicion. They are not responsible to investigate the situation. Staff members must report observed abuse/neglect, AND suspicion. It is their role to keep children safe. As a T&CS, you can provide guidance on reporting. Remind them that they do not need to make the call alone. The important thing is to make the call, even if it is suspicion.
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 Staff Members
Staff members will feel a range of emotions after making a report: frustrated, angry, disappointed, nervous, relieved. All of these emotions are expected. It is your job to make sure they have someone to talk to and to help them deal with the emotions they are feeling. The following video helps explain what staff might experience after a report and how you can help.
What You Can Do: Be a Role Model for Staff Members
Use active listening strategies
When a staff member has a concern about a child, he or she needs to know that they have been heard. The best thing you can do is listen and support reflection. Active listening is a skill staff members can apply to their interactions with children and families. Follow these guidelines:
- Stop and really listen. Eliminate distractions and really listen to what the person is saying. Stop shuffling papers, doodling, checking your email, or filling out paperwork. Focus on the speaker and what he or she is saying.
- Give feedback. Give the speaker a chance to know you understand what is being said. Occasionally pause and repeat back or paraphrase what the speaker said. You might say, “I heard you say you think Drew is having trouble at home. Is that correct?”
- Ask questions and seek clarification. You might follow up. “It sounds like you are concerned about Drew’s safety. What have you noticed? What has made you worry?”
- Empathize. Try to see the situation from the speaker’s perspective. You might say, “I can tell that was a really scary situation for you” or “I wonder if that was difficult.”
Provide opportunities to practice
Being prepared to report child abuse and neglect is a complex and ongoing process. Make sure staff members have continuous training around recognizing, reporting, and preventing child abuse and neglect. Do more than simply making sure staff members attend required training events. Help staff deepen their understanding and application of the ideas. Make sure staff members feel 100% prepared to do what is right. Role play can be a powerful tool. Provide scenarios and work with staff as they identify the signs of child abuse or neglect. Role play making a report or getting help. You can find scenarios in the Apply section. Use them at staff meetings or at professional development events to help keep staff members’ skills sharp.
Model your role as a mandated reporter
As you learned in Lesson 1, you and all staff in the child and youth programs 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, all you need to do is make a report and allow investigators to do their jobs.
- Observe children for signs of abuse or neglect.
- Be familiar with reporting procedures for your stateMIL, 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.
What You Can Do: Observe Children for Signs of Abuse and Neglect
Throughout your career you will observe children for signs of abuse and neglect. You will also observe staff members and their abilities to recognize and report abuse and neglect. Read these scenarios and think about how you might respond to support the staff member.
Carla and Jayne are in a planning meeting talking about a child in their class. Carla is very concerned about the way a child's father talks to him and treats him. She has noticed some scars on his back, and he seems very afraid of making mistakes. He often says, "Don't tell my dad." Jayne says, "My dad was tough on me, too, and I'm fine. I got whipped every day, and it wasn't abuse. He'll be fine. You're making a big deal out of nothing. You won't be able to live with yourself if you mess up that family for nothing."
At least one member of the team suspects a child is being abused. The other member of the team doubts whether what is occurring is "abuse" and is discouraging her teammate from making a report.
First, focus on Carla's suspicions. "Carla it sounds like you're concerned. What have you noticed?" Remind the team that it is not up to us to decide whether a child has been abused. Our job is to report reasonable suspicions of harm.
Next, help Jayne process what she is feeling but remain focused for now on the child's safety. "Jayne it sounds like you have a different opinion. Have you noticed injuries?"
Help the team step back and ask themselves: Has the child been harmed or is he in risk of harm? Remind them they do not have to agree. If Carla suspects abuse or neglect, she must make a report.
Felix is concerned that a child, Dan, came to the program without a winter coat in subfreezing weather. He knows Dan has a coat; the family attended a coat drive just last week and got new coats for the whole family. He has seen this pattern over and over again all winter long, and has become concerned that Dan is not being cared for. He just keeps saying to you, "Dan's mom is doing the best she can. I think making the call might get her in trouble without getting her any help."
Felix is worried that making a report will jeopardize his relationship with the family. He is also concerned that the mother is doing all she can to meet the child's needs. It is just not enough. He also worries that her behavior might not be neglect-it might be a lack of resources or help. All of these fears are preventing him from taking action.
You might say, "Felix, it seems like Dan's situation is upsetting to you. Let's process that for a little bit." Once Dan talks Felix talks through all the complexities of the situation, you might say, "Felix, everything you have told me today sounds like it fits the definition of a reasonable suspicion. It's our obligation to report reasonable suspicions, but that does not mean we can't help Dan's mom get more help if she needs it. In fact, making the report can help her get help."
Brad, a school-age staff member, comes to you upset. He says a child came to him with a "secret." Without thinking what the secret might be, he promised not to tell anyone. The child revealed that some very harmful and abusive things were happening to her, but she made him repeat his promise not to tell. Brad won't even tell you who the child is or what she said. He says he just doesn't feel right telling anyone. He says the child might be in danger if he tells anyone; the abuser will find out that she told. Plus, the child will never forgive him.
Brad has made a promise he legally cannot keep. He is worried that by breaking the promise he will put the girl in harm's way and damage his relationship with her.
You might say, "Brad, I can see how difficult this is for you. I'm glad you came to me. Sometimes we have to do something uncomfortable to keep a child safe. Remember, legally, you have to report this situation. It might feel bad now, but it is the right thing to do."
You might continue, "I wonder what the consequences are if you don't report. What continues to happen to that little girl? I don't know the answer to that question, but you do. We both know what you need to do legally, and I will help you in any way I can. Let me help you prepare for the report."
You answer the front desk phone. It is staff member Katie calling. She is crying and saying she won't make it in to work today. You ask what's wrong and she tells a long story: This morning before work she stopped at her neighbor's house to borrow some supplies for a craft project at work today. Her neighbor is a good friend and a family child care provider. She knows the family well, so they go in and out of each other's houses all the time. She could hear people in the house, so she knew they wouldn't mind. She called hello to her friend and went to the basement to find her friend's craft bin. She met face-to-face with her friend's husband when she turned the corner. He was shirtless, his pants were unfastened and he was trying to hide a 6-year-old girl behind him. Katie could see the girl's underwear in her hand. She ran away without saying a word and is sitting in her car in her garage. She called you first and didn't expect to tell the whole story, but now she has and she doesn't know what to do.
A staff member has witnessed suspected abuse. The abuse happened in her good friend's house and will likely impact the community. She is a mandated reporter, but she might not think that this applies outside of work.
You should say, "Katie, it sounds like that little girl is in immediate danger. Are you in a safe place? You need to hang up and call the police. We can call FAP, law enforcement, and CPS together if you want to. I'll get the numbers for you. Call me back as soon as you are off the phone with the police."
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 staff members feel supported and prepared to take the right steps and protect a child.
As a program leader, it is your responsibility to ensure that staff members know the program's specific procedures for reporting suspected cases of abuse and neglect. Print the My Program's Reporting Procedures handout and review each section of the form with all staff members. Make sure that all staff members have a copy and complete it with information relevant to your program. Store or post the document in an accessible area of your program or office.
Use the two role play scenario activities below at staff meetings or during trainings to help staff prepare for reporting abuse and neglect. There is a set of role play scenarios on familial abuse as well as a set on institutional abuse. These activities are also found in the Training & Curriculum Specialist Track of this course.
Then 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. This should be posted for families and visitors to see.
Familial Child Abuse and Neglect: Role Play Scenarios
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/
Harper Browne, C. (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/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/Branching-Out-and-Reaching-Deeper.pdf
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 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). Child Abuse and Neglect. https://www.zerotothree.org/resources/91-the-prevalence-of-child-abuse-and-neglect