Reporting suspected abuse of a child
Step One: Reflect
Take a minute to write down the details to make sure you are able to give the reporting hotline as much information as possible. As a reminder, you do not need proof of sexual abuse to make a “good faith” report.
When you call to report, Child Protective Services will require these five pieces of information:
identity and location
age of the child
person(s) legally responsible and phone numbers
allegation of abuse or neglect.
It would be helpful to disclose specific details of the abuse if you have them, or why you suspect abuse. It is important to disclose if there are any other children in the home, and any information on the dates of abuse. Disclose if you believe anyone else may have information of the abuse.
Consider also thinking about the following (1):
What is the action, or failure to act on the part of the parent or caregivers?
How are these actions or failures to act affecting and hurting the child?
Step Two: Call the hotline
To report abuse call the mandated reporting line for your state as soon as possible, ideally within 24 hours. If the abuse happened out of the state, or the perpetrator now lives in another state, you may have to report the abuse in that state. The reporting hotline may send you a form to fill out after the phone call.
Immediately let the hotline know the emergency nature of the report and whether the child is in imminent danger. If you do not have the information that they are asking, it is okay to say “I don’t know.”
As a reporter, you may not be aware of the Child Protective Services (CPS) team’s actions after you make this call, and make the report. Although the process may vary slightly in each state, below is a summary. Click here for even more information on what happens after you call.
STEP Three: Assessment
The Child Abuse Hotline registers the report, and CPS may follow up and investigate. An immediate assessment is made of the need to take the child from the home and place him/her in protective custody. This rarely happens; only if the child is in imminent danger or harm.
Step four: Investigation
Reports are reviewed by Child Protective Services (CPS) for investigation and either screened out or transferred to the appropriate agency for further action. If reports are “screened out” no action is taken. Usually a report is screened out if (2):
There’s not enough information on which to base an investigation
CPS or police judge the information to be inaccurate or false
The information in the report doesn’t meet definitions for child abuse or neglect used by the protective authorities.
Reports are “screened in” if CPS has decided to investigate. The investigation must begin within a time period designated by state law, usually within 24 to 48 hours or up to 5 days. Sometimes there is a “preliminary” investigation to gather more information; however, if CPS has judged there is no immediate danger to the child, they are allowed more time to begin the investigation.
The investigation may be managed by CPS, the police, or both. Where criminal acts have taken place, the police may make arrests. Those interviewed during the investigation include:
a non-offending parent
the suspected offender
those who may have knowledge of the abuse (neighbors, teachers, child care providers, doctors, therapists)
the person who reported the suspected abuse
Step five: determination
A determination will be made of whether the report is indicated or unfounded depending on if there is enough evidence of abuse or neglect.
If the investigation substantiates that abuse has taken place, interventions are taken to protect the child from immediate harm. Removing a child from their home is a last resort. This is only done when it is confirmed that a child is not safe in their home due to the protective adult’s inability to prevent harm or adequately care for the child (3). Police will also be involved if there are any criminal acts.
CPS then decides what, if any, follow-up actions need to be taken. This includes:
ongoing supervision by the Department of Social Services
services for the abused child including counseling and support programs
services for the whole family including counseling and support programs
If the investigation determines that abuse is not substantiated, there may not have been enough evidence to prove the suspected abuse took place. It can be extremely upsetting and disappointing to the family, and anyone involved in the investigation. This does not mean that you can’t report again when there is more evidence.
After the report
The reporting process may be hard for some, and can even bring up memories of past trauma. As you go through the process, make sure you are practicing self care, and seek a professional mental health expert if needed
We are not lawyers, and the information on this website does not constitute legal advice. We encourage you to contact a lawyer to discuss your complaint or suit.