When you suspect a child is, or is
at risk of, being abused or neglected, it is important to take action. Most
abused children are not able to help themselves.
people, such as doctors, social workers, and teachers, are required by law in
all 50 states to report suspected
child abuse and neglect, usually to the police or to
state child protection services. In some states, all citizens are mandated by
law to report any suspicion of child abuse or neglect. For more information,
see the Other Places to Get Help section of this topic.
Law enforcement and child protective services will
investigate a child abuse or neglect complaint and submit a report to the
prosecutor. Based on the report, the prosecutor will determine whether the
situation requires prosecution. If convicted of a crime, an abuser may have to
serve a jail sentence. The role of the juvenile court is to ensure a child's
safety and connect families to social services.
In 2008, about 58% of the suspected child abuse reports were made
by professionals in the line of duty. The remaining referrals were made
by family members, neighbors, and other community members.2
Many people are unsure how to handle suspected
abuse because they:
- Are not sure what acts are considered abuse and
- Fear they will cause the child more
- Worry that they will falsely accuse a parent or
- Fear that they will become a victim themselves of
violence or harassment from the abuser.
- Are concerned they will be
Keep in mind that by reporting suspected abuse or neglect,
you may prevent a child from suffering serious injury, severe lifelong
emotional problems, or even death. You can make reports anonymously. If you
give your name, it is kept confidential. A person who makes a report in good
faith is immune from lawsuits.
Because in most states suspected abuse must be
investigated within 24 hours, the risk of causing a child more harm by making a
report is less than if you do not report your suspicions.
Investigators sometimes are not able to find enough evidence to support
suspected abuse. In this case, parents or caregivers may be referred to social
services to reduce the child's risk of abuse or neglect.