by Kathryn Krase, Ph.D., J.D., MSW
The hardest part is behind you. Many mandated reporters agonize over whether or not to make a report, but once you make the decision to report, you should make the tough call with confidence. This section will give you a general idea of what the reporting experience is like and provide some helpful hints on how to make the process a smooth one.
Who Do You Call?
Unfortunately, there isn’t a magical phone number for everyone across the United States (and the world) to call and make a report, so the first detail you need to find out is what number to call. The simplest thing to do is conduct an Internet search using the terms “report child abuse” and your state. A few private/nonprofit/non-governmental organizations have toll-free hotlines that can provide you with information on what number to call in your particular state (See National Resources at the end of this article.) It is important to know that a call to these organizations does not fulfill your legal obligation as a mandated reporter to report suspected child maltreatment. You must make your report to your state or local child protective services directly.
In all states and local jurisdictions, reports of suspected child abuse and neglect are made over the phone, many through a toll-free telephone number, routed directly to an agency related to child protective services (CPS). These hotlines are staffed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, 366 days a year in leap year. With these hotlines available, literally, all the time, there is never an excuse NOT to make a call.
Preparing for the Call
The law requires that mandated reporters make the call to CPS as soon as the suspicion of child maltreatment is developed. This means you should not delay in making the call, but you do have time to prepare before you dial the hotline number.
It should comfort you to know that CPS takes the reporting process very seriously, so the staff member you will speak to when you call the hotline is generally someone with years of field experience. Another indication of the importance of the reporting process to CPS is the fact that even the “simplest” calls take longer than you would expect. Many calls take less than 30 minutes to complete. Still, give yourself an hour without anticipated interruptions, to be sure that the report will be thorough. If there are multiple people with information related to the particular case being reported, gather in one place and make the call together.
Have at your fingertips any records or documentation relating to the child and/or family the report involves, as well as contact information for anyone related to the case, including any staff members with relevant information.
What Information Are They Looking For?
In some states, mandated reporters are required to complete a written report within a certain amount of time after making the phone call to CPS. These forms are actually a helpful resource for anyone preparing to make a report to CPS. If you take a look at one of these forms, you will know what information you will be expected to provide to CPS when you make the report. (See examples from California: http://ag.ca.gov/ childabuse/pdf/ss_8572.pdf, and New York: https://www.ocfs.state.ny.us/main/Forms/ cps/LDSS-2221A%20Report%20of%20 Suspected%20Child%20Abuse%20or%20 Maltreatment.pdf).
Some states allow mandated reporters to make anonymous reports, but most do not. So, the first information you will most likely have to provide is your own name, job title, organization, phone number, address, and other details. You should provide your professional information when making a report based on your professional role. If you are making a report as a concerned citizen, neighbor, or family member, you should provide your home information. This information will be used by CPS to follow up with you as needed to ask you additional questions or clarify your suspicions.
If you are making a mandated report, by providing your name and contact information you are helping to document your efforts to meet your legal obligations to report suspicions of child maltreatment. When you make a report anonymously, there may be no official record that you made the report, thus making it harder to defend yourself against claims that you failed in your obligation to make a legally required report. In any case, take careful notes of the date/time of call, as well as information about the CPS worker who took your call.
The hotline staff member will ask you open ended questions seeking a narrative related to your suspicions, as well as detailed information about the child and family in question. He/she will follow up with probing questions regarding your narrative, but he/she will not put words in your mouth, so you need to be specific and clear. Don’t say, “The child is being physically abused.” Instead, provide detail that leads to your conclusions, such as, “I believe the parent has hit the child with an open hand resulting in a bruise that I saw on the child’s face.”
What About Evidence?
If you have photographs, written documentation, or other materials that you believe would be helpful to the CPS investigation of your concerns, tell the hotline staff member. They will note this in the report, and the investigation worker can follow up with you to secure a copy. In some cases, you may be authorized to take photographs of injuries. In other cases, you might not be. Consult your agency’s legal counsel about what photographs or other materials you can/ should provide to CPS.
Hotlines Can Help
Sometimes you might be considering making a report, or have a hypothetical case situation that is nagging you. Well, the CPS hotline, or one of the nonprofit/ non-governmental organization hotlines, can be an important resource for you. The state CPS hotlines field more than 3 million reports nationally each year, but also take hundreds of thousands of inquiries or questions. If you’re not sure if you should report, or whether you need to report, do not hesitate to call and ask for guidance. These resources are literally designed to be there when you need them, so that together we can help protect children from harm.
Prevent Child Abuse America
1-800-CHILDREN A national nonprofit/non-governmental organization with chapters in all 50 states dedicated to a shared focus of preventing child abuse and neglect.
1-800-4ACHILD A national nonprofit/non-governmental organization providing prevention, advocacy, and intervention services dedicated to helping victims of child abuse and neglect.
Kathryn S. Krase, Ph.D., J.D., MSW, is an assistant professor of social work at Long Island University in Brooklyn, NY. She earned her Ph.D. in social work, her Juris Doctor, and her Master of Social Work from Fordham University. She has written and presented extensively on mandated reporting of suspected child abuse and neglect. She previously served as Associate Director of Fordham University’s Interdisciplinary Center for Family and Child, as well as Clinical Social Work Supervisor for the Family Defense Clinic at New York University Law School.