According to the Children’s Bureau annual Child Maltreatment report more than 700,000 children were reported to be mistreated in fiscal year 2009. Almost 80 percent of those children were neglected while 17 percent were physically abused and 9 percent were sexually abused. (The total equals more than 100 percent because some children experienced multiple abuses.)
Those numbers reflect reports made to child protection services agencies across the country, 52 percent of which were made by educators, law enforcement, social services and medical personnel – people mandated to do so.
Every state and Washington, D.C. has mandated reporting laws that require certain professions who work with children to report suspected child abuse.
Those professionals vary, but usually include teachers, social workers, medical and mental health professionals and child care providers, according to the Child Welfare Information Gateway.
The punishment for failing to report can be as serious as a misdemeanor.
Mandated reporter laws also describe what and where to report concerns.
For example, here in Maryland, “each health practitioner, police officer, educator or human service worker, acting in a professional capacity” are expected to report to law enforcement or child welfare agency if they suspect a child is being abused or neglected. Abuse and neglect are not specifically defined by the law.
But each state’s definitions are based on minimum standards set by federal law. Through the Federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act and the Keeping Children and Families Safe Act of 2003, child abuse and neglect is defined as:
…any recent act or failure to act on the part of a parent or caretaker which results in death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse or exploitation; or an act or failure to act which presents an imminent risk of serious harm…
The National District Attorneys’ Association has a handy list of laws for each state here. Take a look and see if you’re mandated to report, what you should report and who you report to.
Child Welfare Information Gateway: Summary of State Laws
Child Welfare Information Gateway: State Guides and Resources
National District Attorney’s Association: List of Mandated Reporting laws by state