Mandated Reporting or Jail?

So hopefully I have your attention. I am going to be sharing with you one of the most important things you will need to know about reporting “suspected” child abuse. Why does this matter, jailother than, of course, “doing the right thing?” We are going to get into it and then beat it with a stick, so it’s more than clear by the end of this post.

Now, why should you listen to me? I worked for Child Protective Services for 11.5 years as a child abuse investigator. I currently serve as an expert witness. I am a Child Custody Evaluator for Family Law, and I am an expert witness for BBS.

I am going to tell you what I would look for if I were brought in as a consultant or an expert on a board complaint or lawsuit regarding mandated reporting. I’ll give just the highlights because this is an article not a book.

Let’s just take a second and assume that everyone reading now is, in fact, a mandated reporter. “Suspected” child abuse must be reported pursuant to Penal Code 11166. Is this boring? I said, Penal Code. It’s not implied; it is in fact crime and punishment that we are talking about here. Do you look good in orange?

Let’s move on. This bit is especially for those of you working in large agencies and schools: “No supervisor or administrator may impede or inhibit a report or subject the reporting person to any sanction (PC 11166[f).”

So, what does that mean for you? It means that if there is a policy in place that says you must tell an administrator BEFORE you make a suspected child abuse report and they “decide” that it doesn’t meet “their” criteria for reporting, guess who is liable? Wait for it…..YOU!

Oh but wait, you are going to tell me it’s the policy. Let me make it easy for you. What do you think a Court of Law cares more about, a policy or a law?

Here is an example of what can happen if an administrator decides to “investigate” before they report the suspected child abuse or before you report it. Let’s say they decide to “question” the victim, or worse call the caregivers to “determine” if their story sounds plausible.

Maybe they believe it, maybe they don’t. Then they tell them that they are going to have to call CPS and report the allegations. Here is what all too often happens next. By the time CPS gets there – it could be a 24-hour, three day, five day, or 10 day response depending on the jurisdiction and the allegations, the children have been coached, threatened and/or the caregivers have “their stories straight.”

It’s like telling a potential drug dealer that there will be a search warrant in the next few days. It’s not only ineffective but can be considered “impeding” a potential criminal investigation. Most states have laws and penalties for the impeding of a criminal investigation. So if your practice is to let your client know that you are calling CPS, stop it, now.

Reasonable Suspicion

How can you tell if it might be a criminal investigation? Physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, severe neglect, abandonment; the list goes on. What is key here is that it is not up to the mandated reporter or their administrator to determine if it in fact is a crime and/or child abuse. It is mandated that the reporting party report a “reasonable suspicion” of child abuse.

The most important thing you can do as a mandated reporter is call your child protective services agency immediately if you suspect child abuse. Do not wait until the end of your day or your lunch. Timing is everything. The longer you wait, there is a shrinking window of opportunity for the Child Protective Services (CPS) agency to see and interview the child in a neutral setting.

An example would be an allegation of sexual abuse and a teacher waiting until lunchtime to call it in to the hotline. Then CPS gets there it’s getting near the end of the day, they might be waiting for law enforcement to conduct the investigation conjointly and guess what, school buses start pulling up and the child begins to panic.

Tons of nosy parents milling around with cell phones, and maybe they even call the parent and tell them the police and CPS are interviewing their child. Maybe they show up at the school and it becomes “Jerry Springer” Live. Maybe, the parent warns the alleged perpetrator and now the criminal case has no chance because the suspect has “lawyered up” and they are calling the child a liar and there is no “evidence.”

Now that child can be in more danger then they were before.

See how quickly it can spiral? TIMING MATTERS!

What if you don’t report suspected child abuse and the child is further abused? Who do you think is liable? It’s a fine and jail or prison time depending on your state. I could have called this “Mandated Reporting or Dead Child?” But I thought that might sting a bit. Well, you know what? It should.

I have worked seven child death cases and I can tell you that mandated reporting is not optional. No therapist, no healer, wants to live with the death of a child as a result of their failure to report to CPS or the police when they had reasonable suspicion that a child was being abused and neglected. That sentence is worse than any jail time or fine.

To help therapist’s stay out of trouble, I give live trainings, write articles and created because it doesn’t matter how much we want to help, we absolutely have to clearly understand the laws that direct the mandates in our practice.

So, I hope we never meet in a courtroom over failure to report suspected child abuse. This article has been your public service announcement.

Jail image from Shutterstock.




Mandated Reporting or Jail?

Nicol Stolar-Peterson, LCSW, BCD


APA Reference
Stolar-Peterson, N. (2016). Mandated Reporting or Jail?. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 19, 2020, from


Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 22 Mar 2016
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 22 Mar 2016
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