Child Abuse and Neglect happens everywhere. If you are a mandated reporter it is your job to protect our young.
Child Protection Services Making part 1 of a ….. part series designed to help families who struggle with custody issues. Many people do not understand enough about Child Protection Services – I hope this article will clear up a few things.
What Is a Mandated Reporter?
This article is based on California Law and includes advice and kid stories.
California first put a law on the books that doctors must report suspected child abuse back in the 1960’s. Since then the law has “matured” and includes many more groups of people who must report suspected child abuse.
Child Abuse and Neglect is Defined by the California Penal Code 11172
• A child is physically injured by other than accidental means.
• A child is subjected to willful cruelty or unjustifiable punishment.
• A child is abused or exploited sexually.
• A child is neglected by a parent or caretaker who fails to provide adequate food, clothing, shelter, medical care or supervision.
Mandated reporters must report to a county child welfare department and to local law enforcement (police or sheriff’s department) immediately by phone.
A written report must then be sent within 36 hours by fax, or it may be sent by electronic submission, if a secure system has been made available for that purpose in your county.
Written reports must be submitted on the California Suspected Child Abuse Report Form 8572. The form is online and can easily be filled out if you know some basic information. Child’s name, birthdate, family members, address, phone, etc…) I usually open the attendance program to assure I have the most current information.
How much should you know? This is debated. I have asked various social workers what I should do, step by step, if a child reports abuse or neglect. It is almost 50/50 advising me not to ask any probing questions but to have them wait to speak to the social worker or police officer vs. Asking them for more details which helps the child get it out once and makes it easier for them to talk about it again.
Pay attention to the training you receive every year. I hope you are trained by a human, not showed a video so you can ask this question. Each institution you work with will have their own opinion about what you should do.
Whatever you decide, only ask questions that are open ended.
An example of a bad question is: When did your dad stop slapping you in the
face. An example of a good question: Candy, can you tell me more about that?
When you have called the process of reporting has begun.
Call the school secretary and principal to tell them what has happened. I call them AFTER I make a report because so many have tried to talk me out of reporting.
Usually CPS sends a social worker and a police officer. I always want to walk the student to the office myself if at all possible. I always tell the truth as I know it. What I know today is that the child is going to tell a social worker about what happened.
The child needs to understand how important it is to be honest during this conversation. I want them to know that things might take a little bit of time to work out but that the police and CPS want the same thing as we do. They want the child’s family to stay together.
Explaining that the interview is very important. It is a chance to get help. The police and social workers want to help your daddy (your mommy) to learn how to be a better parent. They have classes and things for your parent to practice and learn from. So, tell the entire truth. If they don’t ask the right questions you need to tell them the situation anyway.
I tell them that the social worker can be trusted. Then I tell them that they can ask for me to sit with them if they want me to.
Honestly, most of the time kids don’t want to tell their teacher all of what happens to them. I think the reason is that they think we are pure as the driven snow. They think we will think they are dirty or ugly or blame them. They don’t want to see us look shocked or be sad. Don’t feel bad about it if they choose to go in without you.
I ask the secretary and social worker to speak to me before leaving. The question I have for the social worker is this. “Is there anything I need to know that will help him/her?” Usually the social workers are open and actually seem grateful that someone cares enough to ask.
What should you tell the class. You need to have some sort of explanation to help the victim. When you explain things to the class you can avoid the students from asking what happened. In my experience students who are being hurt at home are either quiet and obedient or the exact opposite.
If a child who is typically very good is called out to go to the office the rest of the kids want to know what’s up. Also, when the kid who causes trouble is called up the rest of the kids want to know what he/she did! I always tell the kids to follow along with me. I tell them that I am going to thank them for helping me with something.
Joey comes back into the classroom. The class becomes very quiet. “Joey, thank you so much for helping me in the office. I really needed your help. You can sit down and we will catch you up on the assignment.”
Do not go into detail. Some kids will come up to me and ask if they can help me the next time.
Of course, I say “yes”.
There is no doubt that you will be disturbed when you are in the position to hear a story of an abused or neglected child. I was naïve and young the first time I had to report a very serious child abuse case. I needed to talk about it to process it. I had a wonderful mentor who also taught and I was able to debrief with her without using names of kids.
Teachers are often the people who report child abuse and neglect because we build strong relationships with kids. Scout leaders, Sunday School Teachers, Coaches and medical personnel are also in the hot seat when it comes to kids trusting us.
I think it is very important to tell students that you are a mandated reporter. Explaining that the law requires you report to the authorities if you think that a child is being hurt or neglected. I always tell the kids that there are no promises that things will suddenly be okay. I know that the goal of CPS is to keep families together. They are not supposed to remove the child unless they feel that she/he is in harm’s way.
Some kids ask if their dad/mom/uncle will have to go to jail. I always tell them that I do not know what will happen. I do know that none of this is their fault. Nobody will blame them for anything. All the authorities believe that sometimes adults hurt kids and it is their job to teach adults a better way to act.
Some (Most) kids are afraid that they will be taken away from their parents. I tell them that I don’t know what will happen.
Protect Privacy. Report privately – not in front of the child. You will need to speak bluntly and say things you won’t want the kids to hear.
Make that phone call as early in the morning as you can. If you hear about it in the morning – please get that call made so you can give the Child Protective Services (Sometimes called Child and Family Services) time to come to school to see the child.
Not all calls will seem like an emergency to you. The most important thing is for you to call and report. Let the authorities have the information. You have no idea the background of a child.
For your information: If the social worker decides that the child is not safe in the home they can remove them. The child might be given an opportunity to live with a family member (usually the best way to do it) or they can be placed in a foster care home or facility.
When a child is removed, the social worker must present the case to a judge within 72 hours. The judge then decides the appropriate placement during the investigation.
You will be “invested” in the child when you make a report. Your heart will want to know what happens. You won’t be told anything. You will know if the child is put in foster care because you will be introduced to the foster parent. (CPS wants to keep kids at the school they attend in an attempt to give the child as much security as possible).
After a few times hearing horrible stories about things that nobody should ever even know about much less do to a child, you get sort of used to it. I became a little tougher in order to protect myself from hurting for them. I assure kids that I have heard it all from other kids before them and I pretend that is true.
In college I dissected a cat. The first day it was disgusting. After two weeks of it I was accustomed to the smell and everything else involved in dissection. I guess it is kind of like that. You become less and less shocked. Maybe you become more and more angry but I never did.
I simply felt so sorry for the kids and the adults.
I believe every parent has the same ultimate goal for their kids. They want them to be happy, obedient and part of a great family. Any adult who hurts a child must be pretty messed up. I am not a counselor so it is way above my pay grade but I do know that the child loves that parent and wants nothing more than to be loved back properly.
Questions about reporting child abuse or neglect
What is the motivation for social workers regarding the abused child? In my experience, Child Protective Services primary goal is to keep families together. They have many programs available for parents to participate in and learn how to be a better parent.
Counseling is available to children who have been abused or neglected and is usually free of charge. In my experience the social workers will do all that they can to reunify parents and their children. Parents have to do their share and learn better ways to parent.
If I tell my supervisor about my concerns of abuse or neglect, have I met the obligation for mandated reporting? No. You are the person who the child told her/his story. You must submit the report to the county child welfare department or law enforcement agency.
What will happen if I do not report the child abuse/neglect? Does anybody really check on it?
To answer this question, I will tell you a story about Mrs. Eagle who taught English in a local high school. A sixteen-year-old girl spoke to Mrs. Eagle one day after class. She was asking about a writing assignment.
During their conversation she said, “My dad makes me have sex with him.” Very calmly.
Most child abuse reports happen in younger grades because younger students aren’t as good at hiding it. Here this girl specifically told her teacher she was being raped by her dad.
Mrs. Eagle chose to ignore it. She didn’t report it. The next year the girl reports it to a different teacher who reports it to CPS and local law enforcement. During questioning they asked the girl if she had ever told anyone about it.
She said, “Yes, last year I told Mrs. Eagle about it.”
They did some research and ended up arresting Mrs. Eagle. She was sentenced to six months in jail and her teaching license was revoked – permanently.
Local mandated reporters were shocked. The story was broadcast around the state. I think Mrs. Eagle made a huge mistake ignoring the girls cry for help.
The law regarding mandated reporters says, “Legally mandated reporters can be criminally liable for failing to report suspected abuse or neglect.
The penalty for this misdemeanor is up to six months in jail and/or up to a $1,000 fine. Mandated reporters can also be subject to a civil lawsuit, and found liable for damages, especially if the child-victim or another child is further victimized because of the failure to report.”
California Penal Code 11172(a)
What if my supervisor thinks that there is no reason to report but I think that there is?
You need to report this no matter what your supervisor says or does. If they threaten to dock your pay or fire you or anything else you should tell the social worker and have them help you with the next steps. One thing that I have found is that social workers will let me know what they think.
Sometimes I call CPS thinking that the situation might not be too important. I let the CPS worker decide that. Also, there are times when a child has had many reports that all seem a little bit weak, but all together they paint a picture that allows CPS to step in and work with the family.
Can I be sued if I make a report? Mandated reporters are protected from criminal or civil liability if they have reported in good faith. Even if nothing comes of the report. The protection applies to a mandated reporter even if they are making a report during their personal time. (link to Penal Code 11172(a) at bottom of this article
Will I have to testify in court?
In thirty-three years and dozens of reports I have testified once regarding a child abuse situation. I struggled with whether or not I should keep notes about what is reported. I feel that I shouldn’t put their private story in writing if anybody can identify the person.
Before you testified ask the attorney if you can read the original report to help you remember the facts. They typically do that.
Sometimes a parent will try to get me to testify during a custody trial. I have always gone to the superintendent of the school district and they have taken care of it. So far so good!
Should I take pictures of injuries? You can take pictures of the abused area but I never have. You are allowed to take pictures and even look at x-rays if you are a mandated reporter. I always ask the social worker if they took pictures or if they want me to. I never have and I think it is easier for a child if the teacher doesn’t take pictures.
Can I stay anonymous? No and Yes. Mandated reporters MUST identify themselves. The paperwork you submit asks for your personal information. If you are reporting and are not a mandated reporter you can stay anonymous.
I recommend you read the book by David Felsper titled A Child Called It. This is a hard book to read. It will stir your emotions and make you feel terrible. The book begins with a list of people who saved David’s life. He says that these people risked their jobs to help him. That can be true.
Here are a few examples of a few true stories.
Junior High girl living with step mom and has step sister in the same grade. Dad is a recruiter for the army and is stationed in town. The girl reveals to me that the step mom (from another country) makes her stand with her arms out holding dictionaries and if she drops them low she smacks her.
Cuts a piece of soap and puts it on her outstretched tongue to dig a hole through her skin. Makes her lick her morning porridge off the kitchen floor where the dogs stay. Makes her sleep in a crib under an open window naked in the winter. Things got better when dad was living at home but the abuse continued in a more sneaky way.
I called to report this to CPS and was told that since he was in the army I needed to call them. I found the proper number and made the call. I had to fax the paperwork to them. The entire family vanished before the next morning. I never heard if she was helped so I had to assume that the army took care of her.
A Two-year-old living in foster care was given unsupervised visits with his mother. My son was at the same daycare.
One day I went to pick my son up and Curtis needed his diaper changed. I saw that he had marker all over his body. I smiled and said, “Hey did you get to play with markers today?”
The answer still resonates in my heart.
“Don’t tell Momma Donna. My mommy and her friends drew markers on me. They tied me to the table and tickled me with the markers. They really liked tickling my bottom but I got scared.”
After Curtis finished telling me all of the bad things his mother had done to him during the first unsupervised visit I had to call Child Protective Services. I had made a report and ultimately, we learned that the mother was a practicing “witch” of some kind and the ritual was being prepped to enter him anally.
The end result for Curtis was that his foster mother adopted him and he has been safe since then.
A little boy is walking to the cafeteria and points to a
board on the wall saying “See that board. My daddy hits me with that kind
of board. Last night he hit me 13 times.”
“Why 13 times?” I asked him. The program he was in had a daily progress report and there were checks for both positive and negative behavior.
“Last night I got 13 checks so that is how many times he hit me.”
This little boy lived with his parents and his sixteen-year-old brother who was on parole for rape. The police entered the house weekly to check the boy’s room for porn but did nothing about the meth pipes and other reported abuses.
The parents had permanently lost custody of three other siblings. CPS took at least ten reports from his teacher in two years before removing him. The final straw was one day when the mother called after school.
“Hi Teacher, I wanted you to know ahead of time why he has a big bruise on his face. He and the dog were jumping on the couch so I hit them with a big back scratcher and accidentally hit him in the face. So, there will be bruises and you know so you won’t need to call CPS on me.”
“Where is he now?” This little boy was all about
noise and the house was absolutely silent behind her call.
“Oh, he fell asleep on the couch. That’s all. He is okay.”
This woman was on probation for child abuse and had already served a five-year sentence for hurting her other child.
The police were contacted and asked to go to the house and do a wellness check. – We did not report to CPS because we had reason to believe the boy had been beaten.
The police found the boy on the couch unconscious. He was covered with bruises (no wonder he wore long sleeved sweatshirts and sweatpants on 100-degree days.).
people’s stories helps each of us do some thinking and allows us to work on our own memories.
My first year teaching I had to make my first report to Child Protective Services. The nine-year-old was home from school “ill” for the day. He called himself in sick which was sort of weird in itself.
As I was teaching a motorcycle was going back and forth on the street passing my classroom. The kids were getting really into it and almost out of control.
Jeffrey was showing off to the rest of the class. I saw that Jeffrey had no helmet. I felt that he was truant and that he was breaking the law riding without a helmet. I had no idea if this 8-year-old was being supervised or not.
I made the assumption that Jeffrey was not being supervised. I reported it to Child Protective Services. I didn’t think twice about it. I needed to get a form from the office so I could follow up on the phone call with paperwork. (Phone calls were expensive and so we had to make these calls from the office.
It is policy to tell the administrator (principal) about any report we make to CPS. So, while I was in the office I poked my head in and told him what had happy I never expected the reaction I got from my boss. He flew off the handle. Ordered me to stand in front of his desk.
“Do you have any idea the problems you have caused for his family?” He went on to tell me that he did not believe it was any of our business how families disciplined their children. He ordered me to never do that again!
I was the new teacher and didn’t know the temperament of my principal. Other teachers told me that they did any reporting from their home phone or waited until he left for the day. That seemed ridiculous to me but sometimes you have to do what you have to do.
The next year I was teaching a combination course of third-grade and fourth-grade. I had twenty-four fourth graders and ten third-grade students. My third-grade students went to PE with another third-grade teacher which gave me time to work alone with the fourth-grade students.
Some time later, Samantha was brought to see me by her PE teacher. “Sally, look at her arm.” Was all the other teacher said. Samantha was crying. I asked her what was going on and she showed me the soft underside of her arm. It was black and swollen. There were a few red and green spots. I asked her what happened to her arm. She showed me her side. She was wearing a pair of shorts underneath her skirt. (We went outside for privacy).
I hope none of you ever need to report any type of abuse. Be strong and follow the rules. It is kind of redundant to fax a written report to the same people who just met with the child but YOU MUST follow up with the proper paperwork. You will be guided to a website where a pdf file is easy to download and fill in on your computer. You will not be able to save the information or email it. The information you type in will be printed and faxed or mailed to the proper authorities. You can download it and write the information in your own handwriting if that is easier for you.
My last comment is that you really need to tell the administration if you make a report. They may warn the office to expect the police. You do not reveal anything to anybody about who you have reported but they will eventually know. Parents who are abusing their children want to cover that up so they have good reason to intimidate their children to keep them quiet.
Remember all of the staff at a school, church, doctor’s office
or club are mandated reporters. I always explain as much as possible to my
administrator so they are prepared. It is hard to be prepared to see a group of
cigarette burns on a child or to hear that they are raped. Get counseling if
you need to in order to prevent getting PTSD from dealing with such horrific
This is a complete list of mandated reporters as defined in Penal Code 11165.7 – follow this link if you want to read it.