Filling the Shoes of a Mandated Reporter: Know Your Role

The position of a mandated reporter is a huge responsibility and is not something to take lightly. In 2018 nearly 700,000 children were abused in the U.S. Sadly, roughly four out of five abusers were the victims’ parents. When it comes to saving the life of a child, it is important to know where a mandated reporter fits in and to be familiar with the various laws in place in order to stay compliant.

A mandated reporter is a professional who is legally required to report any suspicion of child abuse or neglect to relevant authorities. There are federal laws that protect abused children and can help remove these young victims from their abusers. Before this can occur, a mandated reporter must abide by their duties and report suspected abuse. This is the only way to prevent further abuse from happening.

Child holding up hand in stop gesture with blurred teddy bear.

Who Qualifies as a Mandated Reporter?

The official role of a mandated reporter varies from state to state. People who are required to report suspected child abuse usually include:

  • Social workers
  • Teachers
  • School personnel
  • Health care professionals
  • Mental health professionals
  • Childcare providers
  • Law enforcement
  • Other educators and medical professionals

However, in some states, everyone (regardless of their profession) is required to report child abuse. In other states, witnesses have the option of reporting but are not required to do so. It is vital that everyone who is legally obligated to report child abuse do their part for the betterment of today’s youth. Ignoring obligations can lead to further harm or even the loss of a child’s life.

How to Recognize Child Abuse & Neglect

Child abuse takes many forms, these include physical, mental, sexual or neglect. Here are just a few red flags you can recognize when it comes to various forms of child abuse and neglect:

Physical abuse:

  • Bites
  • Burns
  • Bruises

Sexual abuse: 

  • Trouble walking or sitting
  • Avoiding a specific person for no reason
  • Symptoms of PTSD such as nightmares, anxiety or depression

Emotional abuse:

  • Extremely withdrawn, fearful or anxious
  • Extreme passiveness or aggressiveness
  • No emotional attachment to parent or caregiver


Neglect can be especially challenging for a mandated reporter to identify, as there may be no physical signs. However, there are still significant signs to look for when identifying child abuse.

  • Tattered, torn or otherwise inadequate clothing
  • Poor hygiene such as cavities or foul odor
  • Unattended for extended periods of time or absentee parenting methods

Statistics show that 75 percent of child abuse cases involve neglect.

How to Distinguish Injuries

As a mandated reporter, it is important to be able to distinguish an abusive injury from an accidental fall on the playground. While it is not always clear, there are some warning signs you can look out for.

The type, location and patterns of injuries can help you to distinguish accidental injuries from physical abuse. Accidental injuries would usually be found in bony areas, such as a child’s shins, knees, elbows, forehead or chin. Suspicious bruised areas would include the back, buttocks, ears, face, neck or genitalia. Suspicious patterns of abuse may include hand marks, belt marks, loop markings or patterned burn marks.

It is important to note the developmental stage of a child when evaluating an injury. For example, infants and babies who are not yet crawling have a very low likelihood of banging into things. Therefore, a baby with a bruise is very suspicious. It is also imperative to look for wound placements.

How to Ask Questions

When questioning a child, it is important to ask open ended questions such as, “How did you get hurt?” Never ask suggestive questions such as, “Did your mother or father hit you?” When questioning a child’s conduct, you can also ask, “Is there anything that is upsetting you?”

Note the setting where you talk to the alleged victim. The child should feel safe and comfortable during questioning. Make sure to have your discussion in private. Sit next the child and do not intimidate them. Make sure the child understands they are not in trouble and use age appropriate language they comprehend.

Remember to document the child’s response and manage your emotional reaction. As challenging as it may be, do not let your emotions take control of you. Be honest with the child and praise them for their courage in speaking with you.

Once you are finished with your questioning, leave the investigation to Child Protection Services (CPS).

It is important to note that the child does not have to confess to a trusted adult in order for the mandated reporter to make a report of suspected child abuse. Mandated reporting is the official responsibility of the professional.

How to File a Report

Once you have documented your observations, you as a mandated reporter are required to report suspected child maltreatment to CPS, law enforcement or a toll-free child abuse hotline.

When filing a report, you must provide the following:

  • Your name
  • The child’s name
  • The current location of the child
  • The nature and extent of the injury
  • Any other relevant information

The report should be submitted on a form provided by your state’s Department of Justice for reporting suspected child abuse. For state resources, you can visit the government’s Child Welfare Information Gateway.

What to Expect Next

Once a report is made, it is investigated by law enforcement. Upon completing an investigation,  the investigating agency contacts the mandated reporter with the results of the investigation and any action taken in the case.

The reporter’s identity is kept confidential and may only be disclosed under the following circumstances:

  • Between Child Protective Agencies
  • To counsel representing a Child Protective Agency
  • To the district attorney
  • To the child’s appointed counsel
  • To a licensing agency
  • By court order
  • When the reporter waives confidentiality

When fulfilling your duties as a mandated reporter, the role of Child Protective Investigations (CPI) is to examine reports of child abuse or neglect and determine if any child in the family has been abused or neglected. Investigators will then decide if the child is in serious harm. If danger is present, the parents or guardians are evaluated, and the child can be removed if their caretakers are deemed dangerous.

Failing to Report

If your position classifies you as a mandated reporter, you are required to report child maltreatment to authorities. Reporting to a supervisor, employer or principal is not a substitute for legally mandated reporting to your local child protective services or law enforcement.

Failure to report child abuse can have very negative consequences. Each state has its own laws, but depending on the situation, a mandated reporter who does not report child abuse can be found guilty of a crime or become subject to jailtime or fines. Failure to report child abuse may also result in a civil lawsuit and the mandated reporter can be found liable for damages. Finally, educators who fail to report child abuse may lose their license or credentials.

Next Steps

Training and education are key to stopping the cycle of abuse. Mandated reporting training can be your first step to do your part in helping today’s youth. Through online training, you and your associates can better prepare for and fully commit yourselves to saving children from dangerous situations. You can never be too safe when it comes to lifting a child up from a potentially deadly situation, and taking just an hour out of your day could make all the difference for a child in harm’s way. Start our mandated reporting training online today so you can be the key to a child’s brighter future.

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