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Are You a Mandatory Reporter? Child Abuse Identification & Reporting

Child abuse in the United States is a serious problem. More than 22% of American adults were victims of physical abuse as children. Additionally, 16% were emotionally abused. Some of the abuse is simply neglect, but more disturbingly a lot of it is sexual abuse.

U.S. law dictates that specific groups of people outside the family are mandated to report any abuse they suspect is taking place to the proper welfare agencies. These individuals are called mandatory reporters.

What Does a Mandatory Reporter Have to Report?

If you hold a position that requires you to be a mandated reporter, and you are exposed to a situation where you suspect that abuse or neglect of a child is taking place, you are obligated by law to report it to authorities. If you fail to do so, you can be put in jail for six months or face fines of up to $1,000.

Contacting one of the agencies below by phone can start the process. You will then need to put in writing the same information and submit it.

  • Local police or sheriff’s department.
  • County welfare department.
  • County probation department (if applicable).
  • Child protective services.

There are specific forms for reporting abuse, and you will need to fill in all the proper information.

Who is a Mandated Reporter?

Each state has a list of specific types of positions that require you to be a mandated reporter. Generally, people in these positions work closely with children and are responsible for their wellbeing. Some examples are:

  • Teachers, administrators, and coaches in schools
  • Social workers
  • Law enforcement personnel
  • Childcare providers
  • Medical examiners
  • Therapists or other counselors
  • Doctors, nurses, and other medical staff

This list is only a small sampling. You can check with your state to get the complete list of everyone who is a mandated reporter.

What are the Guidelines When Reporting?

Reporting suspected child abuse is a serious matter that can have far-reaching consequences for the family, and it is not to be taken lightly. While performing your job if you “suspect or have reason to believe” that a child is being abused, you must take action. Another typical standard for reporting abuse is when you have “knowledge of, or observe a child being subjected to, conditions that would reasonably result in harm to the child.”

Abuse of a child may include physical harm (any injury sustained by a parent or other member of the family that is not accidental), emotional abuse, sexual abuse and exploitation or neglect.

When reporting abuse you must state the facts and any additional information you have, but you are not burdened with proving the abuse. The authorities will follow-up and perform a complete investigation based on your report. You will also need to give your name but that information will be kept confidential.

You may also be required to follow specific internal job-related reporting procedures. Check with your employer to be clear about what is expected of you regarding mandated reporting of child abuse.

In some cases, privileged communications that are usually protected by law are waived for mandated reporters, like the physician-patient relationship and the attorney-client privilege. The safety and wellbeing of children are more important than those protected communications.

Warning Signs of Abuse to Look For in Children

Children often show signs when they are being abused or neglected. Some things to look for as a mandated reporter are:

Signs of Emotional Abuse

  • Behaves in an extreme manner (emotions swing widely from compliant to defiant)
  • Is withdrawn and overly afraid of doing things wrong and being punished
  • Lack of attachment to parent(s) or caregiver
  • Inappropriate behavior (acting out), swearing, thumb sucking, tantrums or acting like an adult
  • Extreme anger

Signs of Physical Abuse

  • Unexplained, frequent injuries.
  • Tense and on alert all the time.
  • Wears long sleeves to cover up bruises or cuts.
  • Does not like to be touched or held, flinches when you get close.

Signs of Neglect

  • Frequent tardiness or missed classes.
  • Often unsupervised in unsafe places.
  • Clothes are ragged, don’t fit or are inappropriate for the season.
  • Poor hygiene.
  • Frequently sick or has injuries often.

Signs of Sexual Abuse

  • Talks overtly about adult sexual situations.
  • Runs away from home.
  • Has an STD.
  • Avoids a specific person.
  • Overly shy about taking clothes off or changing.

Reporter Experiences

A survey of mandated reporters included some interesting findings. Most mandated reporters lack the proper training on how to identify and then effectively communicate the suspected abuse to authorities. Many social work professionals experienced ineffective follow up from Child Protective Services and felt the process was inadequate to help children.

58.7% of all reports of childhood mistreatment come from mandated reporters and the rest from outside sources.