Adults in professions that involve children are called "mandatory reporters of neglect and abuse." This means that if they suspect child abuse, they are obligated to file a report with their local Department of Social Services (DSS), a child abuse hot line or a law enforcement agency. Such professions include pediatricians, school teachers, religious education teachers, priests, social workers and day care providers. However, an adult does not have to be a mandatory reporter to inform authorities of suspected child abuse.
Each state has a venue for professionals or concerned citizens to report suspicions of child abuse. Anyone can call statewide hot lines or local DSS or law enforcement agencies. In any state, you can also call ChildHelp (800-4-A-Child) to make an anonymous report of child abuse (see Resources).
In most cases, the person who receives the information in a report presents it to an intake staff to determine whether a report should be screened in or dismissed. The decision is based on the severity or nature of the information received. If a report is screened in, an investigation begins to assess whether the claims can be substantiated. The typical time period for an investigation is 10 days, but this varies by state.
A social worker from the DSS investigates the validity of the report through interviews with the child and the child's mother and father or primary caregiver. The social worker also interviews siblings, teachers, day care providers, pediatricians and anyone else closely associated with the child.
If the report is substantiated, another social worker is called upon to preside over a 45-day investigation.
If the suspicion is sexual abuse, the child will undergo an SAIN (sexual abuse intervention network) interview at the office of the district attorney in the county in which the alleged assault occurred. The interviewer will speak or play with the child before a one-way mirror while the social worker, a victim/witness advocate, an assistant district attorney and the local police observe. If the SAIN interview substantiates sexual abuse, the case is referred to criminal court as opposed to family court.
The social worker will interview the appropriate people again and often observe the child while he's in their care. If the social worker finds that the child is safe emotionally and physically, she will close the case.
If the findings are that the child is in danger or in an unhealthy environment, the social worker will keep the case open. If the situation is dire, the child will go into foster care or to a relative. Otherwise, the social worker will recommend parenting classes, anger management or another appropriate course of action. The social worker will monitor the case until he determines that the child is in an environment in which she can thrive.
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