What If You Are Right?
Self-doubt, time constraints and potential legal issues constitute some of the reasons why mandated reporters may fail to report child abuse or neglect. Let’s explore some of the questions associated with a
failure to report.
What if I am wrong?
Mandated reporters are required to report to Child Protective Services when they suspect child abuse or neglect. So why do mandated reporters sometimes hesitate—or worse, fail—to report?
A 2015 study by Johns Hopkins University* investigated reasons for—and reasons for not—reporting. Legal and professional responsibility, providing assistance to children and their families, and immediate intervention to stop maltreatment were the main reasons for reporting.
Among the reasons for failing to report were lack of evidence, concerns over the effect on personal time, and fear of retribution or being sued by the family. Self-doubt can certainly play a role in not reporting, but instead of asking “what if I’m wrong?”, reconsider the implications by asking yourself “what if I’m right?”
Is the evidence strong enough?
When it comes to evidence, gathering corroborating information is the job of the CPS caseworker. Tom Corbett, a child welfare process analyst with four decades of experience working with the Monroe County Child Protective Services, said mandated reporters don’t have to show evidence when filing a report. “They don’t have to prove it, they don’t even have to satisfy their own minds,” said Corbett, “they just need to have reasonable cause to suspect child abuse or neglect.”
As a former caseworker, Corbett knows that the concept of evidence can be “nuanced and tricky.” But the burden is on the caseworker—not the mandated reporter—to analyze the situation, to determine what is relevant and what constitutes evidence that can be used to help the child in question.
Of course, information can be helpful. Once a report is filed, you will be asked by the caseworker assigned to the investigation about your suspicions and if you have any related information and observations.
What if I am called to testify?
When mandated reporters file a report with CPS, they are legally bound to respond to requests for information. They may be asked to give observations about a child’s physical and emotional condition in school, detail any educational or behavioral challenges, specify any special services the child is receiving from the school district, and note parent responses to teacher requests and participation at conferences, for example.
It’s human nature to be concerned over the impact reporting can have on personal time, as we are all busy juggling work and our own family obligations, especially during the COVID pandemic. However, it’s rare to be called on to testify. “The majority of cases never see a courtroom,” said Corbett. He explained that even when an investigation is substantiated by evidence, only a small portion of those cases end up in court. Oftentimes the family has circumstances or issues that can be resolved through CPS referrals to community services, without going through the court system.
CPS can’t compel a family to do anything to enhance safety for a victim of child abuse or neglect, but a judge can. If the evidence presented
helps to support the assertion that abuse or neglect has occurred, that gives the court leverage in encouraging the family to cooperate and avoid going to trial.
What if I am sued by the family?
Mandated reporters have protections, giving them immunity from criminal or civil liability, assuming they’re acting in good faith. Even if the report is
not substantiated by the CPS caseworker during the course of the investigation, a mandated reporter can’t be sued by the family, as long as they didn’t report anything they knew to be false or with malicious intent.
A mandated reporter who files a report does not need parental consent when providing information to a CPS caseworker.
“Increasing protection for kids and rehabilitating families are the goals of both CPS and family court,” Corbett said. The next time you consider whether or not to file a report with CPS, if you have a reasonable suspicion that child abuse or neglect has occurred, “the only valid question you should be asking yourself is, “How am I going to help this child?”
Self-directed online training courses for mandated reporters are available through NYS:
How do I recognize child abuse and neglect?
How do I know if my suspicion is reasonable?
What if I am called to testify?
What can happen to me if I do report?
What can happen to me if I don’t report?
A report is “unfounded” when there is no credible evidence of child abuse or neglect according to New York State Law.
If a call from a mandated reporter meets the five criteria and the Child Abuse Hotline registers the report, CPS must follow up and investigate. According to state law, this investigation must start within 24 hours of the report but often starts immediately.
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 of harm.
A CPS investigation involves interviewing the parents or persons legally responsible. The child, siblings, another household member, and other involved adults are also interviewed. The child may be examined for physical signs of abuse or neglect. The CPS caseworker also contacts the mandated reporter who initiated the call. State Law also provides protection for the rights of parents or others legally responsible for the child.
Finally, a determination will be made of whether the report is indicated or unfounded, depending on whether there is enough evidence of abuse or neglect. If abuse or neglect is proven, a Service Plan for the family will be put into place. CPS will monitor the execution of this plan.
As a mandated reporter, you may not be aware of the CPS team’s actions after you make a report. You may also be worried about the family, and whether your call will make things better for them.
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