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Child Abuse Reporting Frequently Asked Questions

The Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act (CANRA or Act), Penal Code Sections 11164-11174.3, is intended to protect children from abuse and neglect.  This Act defines the categories of abuse and neglect, identifies all those who are Mandated Reporters under the law, outlines reporting requirements and penalties for not reporting, as well as immunities from civil and criminal liability when making a report. Please refer back to the CANRA.  Listed below are some frequently asked questions that pertain to reporting suspected child abuse and neglect.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Who am I to say what is abusive?

Professionals often feel reluctant to label behavior as abusive and may feel they have no right to pass judgement on other people.  However, if a reasonable suspicion exists, the protection of the child and compliance with the law must take precedence over these concerns.  This protective action is beneficial to the parents as well, who may not recognize their behavior as abusive, or may be reluctant to seek support.

What is the difference between physical abuse and discipline?

Under California Welfare and Institutions Code Section 300(a), reasonable and age appropriate spanking to the buttocks where there is no evidence of serious physical injury does not constitute abuse.  However, if the discipline is excessive or forceful enough to leave injuries, physical abuse as occurred.  The use of instruments increases the likelihood of injuries, as does the excessive punishment of young children.  The intent of the law is not to interfere with appropriate parental discipline, but to respond to discipline which is extreme or abusive. Some parents hit their children in places where injuries are not visible (the buttocks, thighs, back) and the mandated reporter has been made aware that belts, cords, or other potentially dangerous objects were used.  If a mandated reporter has reasonable suspicion of abuse, even with no visible signs, you are required to report.

What is the difference between neglect and poverty?

Neglect is when the caregiver has the resources, but chooses not to provide for that need.  Poverty is when the caregiver does not have the resources to provide for the needs of the children they care for.  For more information about supportive services related to the prevention or intervention of child abuse and neglect, check out the services provided through the Strong Families Alliance of Alameda County.

I work with children on a regular basis as part of my employment, but I am not listed as a mandated reporter. How do I know if I am required to make a report?

California law includes any public or private organizations, including the self-employed, and administrators or employees whose duties require direct contact and supervision of children.  Also, please refer to the full list provided within the CANRA at Penal Code Section 11165.7.

What if abuse occurred in the past?

There is no time limitation regarding the reporting of child abuse.  If a victim is still under the age of 18, the abuse must be reported.

What if an adult states they were abused as a child?

The child abuse reporting law mandates a report when there is a reasonable suspicion or knowledge that minors may be in need of protection.  Therefore childhood abuse of adults should be reported IF there is a reasonable suspicion that there may currently be another child victim.

 

Should I report domestic violence as child abuse?

Domestic Violence (DV) refers to violence within the home regardless of relationship.

Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) refers to violence between partners that are intimate.

If a child witnesses violence in their home, or are aware of the aftermath (injured parent, broken furniture, holes in walls), a report should be made.  Awareness of domestic violence or intimate partner violence can be psychologically harmful to children. In addition, a child could get physically hurt if caught in the middle of an altercation.  Domestic violence also raises the risk for child abuse.  If a person is violent towards another person in the home, it raises the risk that person will also abuse children in that home.  If a child discloses DV or IPV that may have occurred in the past but is not currently happening, report it so that a determination regarding possible intervention can be made. 

At what age is a child at risk of abuse?

All children are at risk of abuse but infants and toddlers are most likely to sustain serious injuries due to their fragility.  The mortality rate is the highest for children 0-2.  Some people are predisposed to incorrect ideas about abuse, depending on the age of the child.  Sexual abuse of infants is more difficult to fathom than sexual abuse of an older child, yet it does occur.  Adolescents are also at risk of abuse but may not receive needed help because they may be thought to provoke the abuse or to be better able to protect themselves or run away from abusive situations.  Despite their age and size, adolescents are often just as vulnerable as younger children to physical, sexual abuse. emotional abuse, and neglect.

When is suspected emotional abuse reportable?

Although emotional abuse is hard to prove, it is still reportable.  Yet, it is a component of all types of child abuse.  The hallmark for emotional abuse is a sudden change in behavior.  A child’s behavior could change for many reasons such as loss of a pet, divorce in the family, or falling out with a friend, which makes this a difficult form of abuse to diagnose.  Anytime a child wants to hurt, harm, or injure themselves or others, there is a cause to be concerned that the child’s adverse emotional behavior is due to a caregiver’s actions or inaction.

At what age can children legally be left alone?

Under California law, there is no specified age when a child can be left home alone.  For some families, it is a financial necessity.  However, parents have to use extreme caution and good judgement and should create a safety plan that a child can use in the case of an emergency.  It is important the child knows the answers to questions such as:  If an emergency happens and you are home alone, who would you call, how would you call, and how would you know you are safe?

Are clergy mandated to report?

Yes.  Clergy, including those who are custodians of records, are legally mandated reporters if they gain knowledge or reasonable suspicion of suspected child abuse unless the clergy member receives this information during a penitential communication. For more information about this mandate, please visit the Child Welfare Information Gateway.

Is a Mandated Reporter “on duty” 24 hours a day and required to make reports on family, friends, or neighbors?

In California, the mandated reporting law specifically states that reporting is required when the reporter has knowledge of or observes child abuse in his or her professional capacity or within the scope of his or her employment.  A report is not required when information is obtained through a personal relationship. However, professionals with any knowledge of child abuse or neglect should examine their moral and ethical responsibilities to their community and its children when making such a decision. 

Can reports be made anonymously?

Mandated Reporters MUST identify themselves when making suspected child abuse reports.  This enables documentation that mandated reporters fulfilled their reporting requirements.  It also allows for Mandated Reporters to follow up after a report is made and check the status of their report.  Once investigations are completed, Mandated Reporters may receive communication regarding the disposition of their report.  

Can anyone make a suspected child abuse report?

Yes.  When a person has a suspicion of abuse or neglect of a child, but not within your professional capacity or if you are a community member, you are a non-mandated reporter.  A non-mandated reporter is any person who has knowledge of, observes, or reasonably suspects abuse and reports it without being obligated to do so.  Non-mandated reporters can make a report anonymously, and there is no penalty to non-mandated reporters for not reporting.

What if more than one Mandated Reporter, at the same agency, has the same information, do we both make a report?

According to Penal Code Section 11166(h) when two or more persons, who are required to report, jointly have knowledge of a known or suspected instance of child abuse or neglect, and when there is agreement among them, the telephone report may be made by a member of the team selected by mutual agreement and a single report may be made and signed by the selected member of the reporting team.  Any member who has knowledge that the member designated to report has failed to do so shall thereafter make the report.

Should I inform the family that I have made a child abuse report?

There is no law or regulation regarding this question and good professional judgement should be used.  If a child is in imminent danger and the perpetrator has access to the child, it may be better not to advise anyone in the family so that the child is not coerced or instructed to retract the disclosure.

Is third party knowledge of suspected child abuse and neglect reportable?

Third party reporting is required if the third party has a reasonable suspicion that child abuse occurred and cannot verify a report on that child was already made.  CFS prefers to hear from the person who has first-hand knowledge of the suspected abuse.

Does CFS provide consultation?

Child Welfare staff in the County of Alameda do not provide consultation.  If you are unsure about making a report, consult with your mandated reporter governing body and/or your peers and supervisor.  If you need clarification of the law or want to request Mandated Reporter training, contact the Child Abuse Prevention Services Coordinator at 510-780-8689 or email alamedacapc@acgov.org.

My employer/supervisor told me that I have to make a suspected child abuse report but I do not agree. What do I do?

Mandated reporting is an individual responsibility.  If your superior tells you to make a report and you disagree, they are to file the suspected child abuse report based on their reasonable suspicion.  Remember, the responsibility to report remains with the individual who suspects abuse.

Is truancy reportable as child abuse?

No.  Truancy, in and of itself, is not considered child abuse.  It is a School Attendance Review Board (SARB) matter to investigate.

What are the responsibilities of school volunteers with reasonable suspicion of child abuse and neglect?

Volunteers, with the exception of Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA), are not mandated reporters.  Volunteers, like any non-mandated reporter, may make a report and are considered discretionary reporters.  Volunteers have the right of filing a confidential report and do not have to disclose their identity or contact information when making a report.  If a mandated reporter gains information from the volunteer that leads to a reasonable suspicion of suspected child abuse, then they are obligated to file a report. However, CFS prefers to hear directly from the person who has first-hand knowledge of the suspected abuse.

What happens if you fail to report?

Mandated reporters, according to Penal Code Section 11172(a), risk both criminal and civil liability for failure to report.  If a mandated reporter fails or delays in making a report and a child is abused or killed as a result, the professional can be sued for malpractice. In addition, administrative action may be taken, resulting in suspension or revocation of a practitioners’ license.

When do I made the suspected abuse and neglect report?

The Mandated Reporter must make a verbal report immediately or as soon as possible to the Child Abuse Reporting Hotline or local law enforcement agency following the disclosure of abuse or neglect or reasonable suspicion of abuse or neglect has occurred.  Once the verbal report is received, the Mandated Reporter, within 36 hours, must complete and submit the form by fax to CPS at (510) 780-8620.

What happens after a report is made?

Once a call is received on the Child Abuse Reporting Hotline, the call becomes a referral.  That referral is reviewed to first determine if the report includes information within the description of Welfare and Institutions Code Section 300.  If it does, a timeframe of either 10 business days or within 24 hours is established and the family’s referral is assigned for investigation.

I made a report.. what happened?

Only Mandated Reporters are entitled to receive information regarding the suspected child abuse report they submitted.  By calling the Child Abuse Reporting Hotline, Mandated Reporters can be advised if the referral was assigned as an investigation. After the completion of an investigation,  a Response to Mandated Reporter  is generated, that states the disposition of the investigation that was triggered by your report, so provide accurate and complete information when you make a report.