Is It Child Abuse? Mandated Reporter Guides Can Help

April 19, 2019 | Kate Beier and Karen Meulendyke


Have you ever been unsure about whether to report child abuse or neglect? You want to do what’s best for the family but aren’t certain if child protective services (CPS) is the solution, or you worry about the disruption it could cause for the family. Are you seeing signs of abuse and neglect, or are they signs of everyday life?

Educators, medical professionals, law enforcement, and other members of every community are mandated to report concerns of suspected child abuse or neglect, but the decision to report is often complicated by competing concerns. Mandated reporters must decide whether to report child abuse or neglect knowing that failure to report may leave a child in danger; however, inappropriate reporting may lead to unneeded interventions by overly invasive systems as well as an ineffective use of resources.

Mandated reporter requirements and training vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, as do the types of situations in which mandated reporters must make reports. While they do not need to prove that the abuse or neglect occurred, mandated reporters do need to provide pertinent information to the child protection agency when there is suspicion or reason to believe that a child has been abused or neglected.

Factors that influence reporting decisions also vary among mandated reporters. Some factors that play into decision making are unique and come from individual experiences or professional expertise, while others may be more implicit. The result is that the exact same situation could get reported by one person and not reported by another. By establishing a standard and providing structure around reporting, there is an opportunity to eliminate some of the implicit bias and achieve greater consistency in reporting practices among mandated reporters.

Within the last few years, NCCD has developed child protection reporting guides with partners in Australia and Singapore to help mandated reporters from different community stakeholder groups measure their concerns against an established standard. While this is still somewhat new, the hope is that using this guide will help:

  • Create a common language among reporters;
  • CPS agencies receive the most appropriate reports for screening and response decisions;
  • Ensure that children and families requiring statutory CPS are promptly reported;
  • Increase direct family CPS contact by eliminating time spent on reports that could be diverted for more appropriate service(s);
  • Provide alternative options for reporters to assist children and families who would be better served outside of the statutory child protection system;
  • Provide reporters with clear guidance to support difficult decision making; and
  • Allow for communities to recognize their shared responsibility for supporting and serving children and families.

On April 24, we will facilitate a spotlight session at the 21st National Conference on Child Abuse and Neglect. The interactive workshop will provide an overview of the mandated reporter guides that have been developed for parts of Australia and Singapore; an opportunity to discuss the impact that a mandated reporter guide may have on community members, reporters, and local child protection agencies; and an opportunity to reflect on participants’ current practices and brainstorm potential next steps toward establishing reporting standards and increasing consistency in reporting. If you’ll be attending, please join us!

NCCD staff members Kate Beier and Karen Meulendyke will present “Mandated Reporter Guide: Community Guidance for the Decision to Report Child Abuse and Neglect” at the 21st National Conference on Child Abuse and Neglect in Washington, DC, April 24–26. Learn more about the conference here.