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You Are a Mandated Reporter

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Do you know what that means? When you are a mandated reporter, that means that you are in a profession that is among those mandated to report suspected child abuse or neglect. It is an aspect of your job that, hopefully, you don’t have to think about very often. Reporting suspected child abuse or neglect is always difficult, so it’s important to be prepared in case you are faced with making a report.

Be Prepared

Here are a few tips for knowing what to do:

Be familiar with your local policies & procedures – If you aren’t sure how to handle your suspicion or how to make or document a report to Child Protective Services (CPS), find out. Ask you supervisor. It’s much better to know what to do before you’re faced with making a report.

Review this guide from the VA Department of Social Services: A Guide for Mandated Reporters in Recognizing and Reporting Child Abuse and Neglect

Educate yourself about signs and symptoms of child abuse & neglect in infants and toddlers. Here are a few good resources:

Child Welfare Information Gateway- Definitions of Child Abuse & Neglect

Zero to Three: Abuse and Neglect

Knowing How to Connect the Dots: Recognizing and Responding to Abuse & Neglect (free archived webinar)

Remember, you don’t have to have proof. You are mandated to report your suspicion, and then it is the job of CPS to determine whether the abuse or neglect actually occurred.

Look for patterns and ask questions. If you see something suspicious, or even just something that puzzles you, ask. There may be a perfectly reasonable explanation. If there isn’t, or if you are still concerned, talk to your supervisor if you need further help deciding whether or not to make a report.

Document any suspicions you have, any CPS reports made and contact from CPS. Keep an objective record of your observations and conversations. This can help you identify patterns that may indicate that further assistance is needed. It can also help you in case you are called to testify or the child’s record is subpoenaed.

Trust your gut feeling. Talk to someone if you have a concern.

What Would You Do?

Now that you have more information, take a few minutes to challenge yourself to see what you would do if you were faced with this situation:

Leila has been visiting Grady’s home weekly for several months. On a visit last month, she noticed that Grady, who is 7 months old, had several bruises on his upper arm. When she asked about them, his mom said that she grabbed his arm to stop him from falling off the couch. Last week, Grady had red marks on his thigh that resembled finger prints but Leila wasn’t sure if that was what she saw. When she left the visit today, she was even more concerned because she saw a cluster of bruises of different colors on Grady’s back. When she asked about them, his mother said that she didn’t know where those came from since Grady falls so much.

What about this story makes you suspicious? If you were Leila, what would you do? Should she make a report? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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14 Comments to “You Are a Mandated Reporter”

  1. Dana- thanks for this very important reminder! It’s not something we want to think about, but it is so important to be clear on local policies and procedures, because when you are faced with a situation, you want to be able to act swiftly and not spend your time hunting around for phone #’s, or questioning what the procedures really are- in systems that use a vendor model, not every early interventionist has a direct supervisor as many work for themselves – this is another reason to ensure you are up on policies, procedures and mandates! thanks.

    Regarding the scenario, due to the pattern of new bruising/red marks, and the noted reasons for the bruising (falling often at 7 months of age), as an interventionist, i would be concerned. I would ensure that i had documented my observations as well as my conversations with the caregivers, then talk with a supervisor. Based on the limited information, and assuming there were no medical or health reasons that this bruising would be present, i would make a report.

    • Thanks, Susan. You make a great point about not wasting time hunting for procedures when making a report is necessary. When it gets to that point, time is usually of the essence and I know when I’ve had to do it, I felt compelled to make the report right away.

      Thanks too for your insights about what you would do in Leila’s situation. You raise an interesting point about making sure that there are no health reasons for the bruising – that’s a very important thing to consider. What were your thoughts about the mother’s references to Grady’s falling, when he is only 7 months old?

      • Yes, that comment certainly raised red flags for me. i was thinking – developmentally, why is a 7 month old falling so often? and what does that mean for a 7 month old to fall? If Grady is early on pulling to stand or just a very mobile little guy, it could be possible for him to be tumbling over from a pull to stand, sitting, or from his knees, but those falls certainly would not leave major bruising or cause injury. I’d definitely want to ask some follow-up questions about his tendency for falling.

        These situations are so sticky – because you don’t want to overreact and have the family involved with protective services unnecessarily, but you also want to ensure that the child is safe. Being a mandated reporter is a huge responsibility!

        • Exactly! Comparing the reason the caregiver provides with your own knowledge of child development is a good way to evaluate the situation. But, like you said, it’s a sticky one, evaluating safety without overreacting. Asking those follow-up questions is essential!

  2. I used to work for the company that managed the Child Welfare Information Gateway contract so I was happy to see the document “Definitions of Child Abuse and Neglect” referenced on the blog. I remember answering many a phone call from parents, caregivers and community members and using that document in proving information. I would often receive positive feedback about the document and many local organizations used the document in their outreach in communities as well.

  3. HI Dana:
    Interesting timing of this blog. I literally just finish my paper for my Legal and Ethical Issues in Peds. Therapy Class and switched over to check my email. Well, low and behold my paper was on mandatory reporting and legal/ethical responsibilities. Here are the reference sites for the applicable Code of Virginia regulations. (Easy to print out!)

    https://leg1.state.va.us/cgi-bin/legp504.exe?000+cod+63.2-1509
    http://leg1.state.va.us/cgi-bin/legp504.exe?000+cod+18.2-371.1

    For Grady, because we can not make a sound judgement on how those bruises occured and it is a second observation, I would refer to CPS.

    • Wow, Pam, that’s so funny! Thanks so much for sharing the links directly to the VA code. And I agree, since Leila has observed several instances that concerned her, a report is probably warranted. Good luck with you paper!

  4. Some calls are easy to make; the kids need to be removed from harm. I was afraid of what would happen after a borderline call. Our CPS has made positive differences in the families we share. They are strict, make these parents step up – but they are respectful and can access paid supports for parents that we cannot. Its best when there is good communication between agencies.

    • Excellent point – good communication between agencies is vital! I think your fear of what happens when the call isn’t clear cut is a very common feeling, Janet. Having a positive relationship with your local CPS can certainly help with making that call.

  5. Timely blog with April being Child Abuse Prevention month. I share other bloggers’ concern of why is a 7 month old “falling so often.” I agree that if in doubt, report.

  6. When did mandated reporting become a law?

    • Great question, April. I dug around online a bit and found that federal policy dates back to 1966 and Virginia statute was first enacted in 1975. If you aren’t in Virginia, your state’s statute may have a different date. I found this great overview of mandated reporting where you could find more info: Mandatory Reporting

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