How to Report Child Abuse

Every now and then  somebody calls and asks me how to report child abuse. It’s not that they couldn’t figure the reporting process out themselves, it’s just that there’s an element of shock and disbelief that what they heard said to them, or saw directly, adds up to likely abuse or neglect of a child. Professional youth serving organizations generally have assigned supervisors and reporting protocols in place so that what to do and how to do it is not, or should never be an issue. Other youth orientated programs, however, that operate with volunteers and unpaid staff, especially when little or no training has been provided to adults who share time with children out of the goodness of their hearts, are more often uncertain about what constitutes abuse and neglect and how to report it when they encounter it. The following resources are provided with these folks in mind. (This is a good section also, for parents!)  If you have doubts

Reporting Suspected Abuse and Neglect 

If you are working or volunteering as an adult with young people in any program, organization, or religious community, you are a mandated reporter, (in the U. S.) period. As a mandated reporter, you are required by law (in almost every state in the U.S.) to make a formal report of when you suspect that a child has been abused or is being neglected.  If you have reasonable cause to believe that a child under the age of 18 years is suffering from physical, sexual, emotional abuse or neglect you should report this to either the state or county authority that is charged with receiving and investigating such reports. In most states, it’s a state agency, but a few states have county run investigative agencies also. You should also report the suspected abuse to the program leader, who in turn is mandated to report it also to the appropriate state agency. If the suspected abuse is believed to have happened in one state, but the child lives in another, report the abuse to authorities in the state where the abuse took place.


1. Make certain that the child or teen’s emotional and physical needs for safety and comfort are being met immediately following the disclosure. Under no circumstances should you confront directly the person suspected of abusing or neglecting the child. If there is any element of danger or present risk to any child or adult in connection with the suspected abuse, call the police immediately. 2. Staff persons should report all disclosed information immediately to their program’s leaders. 3. An oral report via telephone should be made immediately to the appropriate state agency. Be prepared to supply the following information to the intake worker on the phone: Do you have doubts?

  • All identifying information (name, address, date of birth, home phone, cell phone, etc.) you have about the child and his/her parent or other caretaker, if known.
  • The nature and extent of the suspected abuse or neglect, including any evidence or knowledge of prior injury, abuse, maltreatment or neglect.
  • The circumstances under which you first became aware of the child’s injuries, abuse, maltreatment or neglect.
  • Tell the agency what action, if any, has been taken thus far to provide shelter or otherwise assist the child.
  • Any information you believe might be helpful in establishing the cause of the injury and person responsible.
  • As a mandated reporter, you are required by law to also provide the child protective agency with your name, address and telephone number.
  • You should inform the child’s parent/care giver that you have filed, unless you think it would increase the risk to the child or teen. 

4.   If you’re not sure if you should report, call the applicable agency anyway and ask them for advice. Most intake workers are very helpful. You can call your state’s child protection agency, or, call or contact online the National Child Abuse Hotline number below. They will relay your call directly to the applicable state agency.

5.   On a “need to know basis,” be certain to process with staff members who are aware of the situation and to let them know what steps have been taken. Remind staff of the need to honor confidentiality to protect those involved, especially for the remainder of the event and beyond. 6.  Assess the needs of the group and/or community as a whole and designate key staffers to offer support as needed to either the child who has disclosed or other community members who have been impacted by this matter. 7.  After calling in an oral report, as a mandated reporter you are next required to file a written report to the applicable child protective agency, usually within 12 to 48 hours. A good rule of thumb is to do so within 24 hours, just to be safe.


1.   Assuming that you are working or volunteering within a program or structured organization, be sure to report the matter in writing, and what steps you have taken, to whomever is responsible or in charge of the organization. Do not overlook this step! 2.   Determine which staff person would be the most helpful to contact the child’s or teen’s parents following the event to offer support. With parental permission, consider speaking with, or sending a note or card to the young person in question to express your concern and to convey that the community is solidly in support of the child during this difficult time. 3.  Reconnect with staff that were involved in this process to make sure that they are doing okay as well. 4.  Discuss the action taken with your supervisor or person who is running the overall program. You deserve time to process what has happened also and how it has impacted you. Unfortunately, you cannot assume that your superiors will be aware that you have needs also, so don’t be afraid to express your need for support and time for debriefing. I hope that this information helps you. If you have questions or are stuck, contact me. And thank you, too, for your care and dedication to young people.

Kevin Lee

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