Child Abuse Reporting

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Child Abuse Reporting

Transcript Of Child Abuse Reporting

and you

Children are our greatest treasure. The people of California, who are concerned about children need information about what to do when they become aware of child abuse and neglect.
People who come into regular contact with children through their jobs, such as teachers or doctors, are required by law to report all known or suspected instances of child abuse. The law gives clear rules for how these “mandatory reporters” are to report child abuse. However, most people are not mandated reporters and are not sure what to do when they become aware of child abuse. This pamphlet is a brief guide to child abuse reporting in California. It is designed to answer some of the most frequently asked questions.

The areas covered are:


General Questions . . . . . . . . . 2 If You have been Accused . . . 12 If You are a Victim . . . . . . . . 24 Prevention . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 25 I Have a Complaint. . . . . . . . . 28

What Is Child Abuse?

Under California law, child abuse is a crime.
Children need protection because they are vulnerable and often unable to speak for themselves. The California Child Abuse Reporting Law, along with other state laws, provides the legal basis for action to protect children and to allow intervention by public agencies if a child is maltreated. California law defines child abuse as any of the following:
■✓ A child is physically injured by other than accidental means
■✓ A child is subjected to willful cruelty or unjustifiable
■✓ 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.
Any child may be victimized. Child abuse crosses all socioeconomic, ethnic, cultural, occupational, religious and age groups. It can occur in the child’s home or outside the family. Tragically, it happens most often at home, and usually the abuser is known to the child. Generally, the abuser is a caretaker. A caretaker can be a parent, stepparent, relative or a child care provider.


Why Should I Report Child

Sometimes people are afraid to get involved in a child abuse situation. Ignoring any problem will not make it go away or get better. In some cases, ignoring child abuse may result in serious injury or even the death of a child.
All children have the right to grow up in a safe environment. Child abuse, in all its forms, has a more long-lasting and negative effect on children, families and the whole community than most people realize. At its worst, its destructive impact haunts its victim through life and can prevent the child from becoming a productive adult. Parents who were mistreated as children will often mistreat their children. Reporting child abuse is a first step in stopping this devastating cycle.
People who hurt children usually need help to change their behavior. Many only get help after someone calls attention to the fact they need it, by reporting the abuse of their child.

What will happen to me if I make a report?

Anyone who reports known or suspected child abuse is protected by the law from civil or criminal liability, unless it can be proven the report was false and the person who made the report knew it was false. Any person, except a mandated reporter, who reports child abuse may remain anonymous. (Some groups of persons are specified in law as mandated reporters and are required to give their names. They are also provided unqualified immunity from civil liability.) However, it is helpful to give your name and telephone number to the social worker or law enforcement officer taking the report, in the event he or she needs to obtain more information later.

How does child abuse get reported?

An initial report is made to the police or sheriff’s department, or the county welfare department. Many times, calls to the police or sheriff’s department are transferred to the local child protective agency to talk about the child’s situation. A child protective agency is either the county social services department (in a few counties it is the probation department) or the local law enforcement agency (police or sheriff). Social services departments provide child welfare services in California. Except for situations involving allegations of general neglect, child protective agencies are required to cross-report to each other. “Cross-reporting” means that the different agencies inform each other of reports so that each agency can take appropriate steps to respond.
“General neglect” means the negligent failure of a person to provide adequate food, clothing, shelter, medical care or supervision for a child under that person’s care or custody. General neglect is handled only by the social services department.


How do I know when to report
child abuse?

Reporting should be done when a person either knows or suspects that a child has been or is in danger of abuse or neglect. Hard proof is not needed to make a report. However, reports must be made in good faith. Use common sense. A report of child abuse is serious and may have a lifelong impact on the child and his or her family. Never make a false or malicious report. If you are in doubt at all about whether to report a particular situation, telephone the emergency response intake worker at your local child protective agency in the county social services or probation department and discuss the situation.

What happens after a report
is made?

When receiving a report about suspected child abuse or neglect, the social worker or law enforcement officer on duty will speak to the person making the report in order to obtain information about the child. The kind of information needed includes answers to such questions as: What type of abuse has occurred? Who or what caused the abuse? Most importantly, the person receiving the call will need to ask: “Is the child still in a dangerous situation or in need of medical care?”
No two reports are handled in exactly the same way. Decisions by all the people involved are based on each child’s situation. Even reports on two children in the same family may be handled differently; the agency receiving the report will determine how to proceed, based on the information available. What the response will be and how quickly it will be made depends on the seriousness of the events reported and the situation the child faces.
Where it appears that the child is in danger, the response will be immediate. Where there is less risk involved, it may be three to ten days before action is taken. Not all reports are serious enough to require the assistance of the law enforcement agency. In these events, the family may be contacted only by the local social service department. An in-person response may not be made when the county social services department, based upon an assessment, determines that one is not appropriate.
The investigations by the child welfare services agency and law enforcement are conducted separately. The child welfare agency will concern itself with the welfare of the child and family. Law enforcement efforts will focus on obtaining evidence to determine whether a crime has been committed and by whom.


What does the social worker

The social worker interviews the child and family to evaluate the situation. The worker’s primary responsibility is the protection of the child.
Often, parents or others who mistreat children are beset by problems which overwhelm them. Abusive parents are frequently very lonely and have few friends. Many of these parents report that they were poorly treated by their own parents and that their childhoods were unhappy. These parents may not be able to handle the normal stresses of raising children without help. Because they were denied safe, secure lives as children, they may not understand the behavior of a child who is experiencing a “normal” childhood. As a result, they may have unrealistic expectations about their child’s behavior.
The social worker’s responsibility is to offer services to help reduce the problems of the family and child. These services can include such things as counseling, referrals to self-help groups or assistance in obtaining medical care, emergency shelter, transportation or a temporary in-home caretaker. The social worker’s activities are designed to protect children and enable families to stay together whenever possible.

What does the law enforcement
officer do?

A law enforcement officer is not always involved when allegations of child abuse are made. However, when they are, they have a responsibility to protect the child in investigating abuse. Sometimes a child protective services (CPS) worker investigates a case. The officer (or CPS worker) will interview the parent(s) and child and gather information based on the interviews, physical evidence and information from other sources such as medical and school records. Usually the parent or caretaker is neither arrested nor criminally charged in a child abuse case. This is because the goal of intervention is to protect the child from further maltreatment and to help the parent(s) change their behavior. In some cases there are instances of serious abuse and crimes when the parent(s) or caretaker(s) are arrested and the case is referred by law enforcement to the district attorney for criminal prosecution.

I heard a rumor that someone is
abusing their child.
Do I report it? . .

The standard by which a report should be made is "reasonable suspicion". Reasonable suspicion means that it is "objectively reasonable for a person to entertain a suspicion, based upon facts that could cause a reasonable person in a like position, drawing, when appropriate, on his or her training and experience, to suspect child abuse or neglect" (Penal Code 11166(a)(1)). One should never take child abuse reporting lightly. It is difficult to make a judgment as to whether or not child abuse has occurred based on rumor. If in doubt, discuss the situation with your local CPS or law enforcement.


What is the fine line between
physical abuse and discipline?
What if an adult states he/she was abused as a child?

If the discipline is excessive or forceful enough to leave injuries, physical abuse has occurred. The intent of the reporting law is not to interfere with appropriate parental discipline, but to respond to extreme or inappropriate discipline which is abusive.
Child abuse of adults should be reported if there is a reasonable suspicion that there may be another potential child victim. (This does not impose an investigatory duty. The investigation is to be done by a local Child Protective Services agency.)

What about testifying in court?

The majority of cases do not go to trial. When they do, if the person reporting is known, it is important to remember that the testimony may be essential for the protection of the child.

May reports be made

Persons not legally mandated to report may make anonymous reports. Mandated reporters must identify themselves when making child abuse reports.

Does a positive toxicology screen at time of delivery
require a child abuse report?

A positive toxicology screen at the time of the delivery of an infant is not in and of itself a sufficient basis for reporting child abuse. However, any indication of maternal substance abuse leads to an assessment of the mother and child pursuant to Section 123605 of the Health and Safety Code. The assessment is performed by a health practitioner or medical social worker. It is to be performed before the infant is released from the hospital.

In cases of domestic violence
when there is a child in the home, is it reportable as
child abuse?

While each county handles this issue differently, domestic violence is being reported in some counties as emotional abuse (Penal Code 11166.05). It is generally reported to Child Protective Services when a child is in the home by medical personnel, law enforcement and domestic violence units. Where a child is in "immediate and present danger of abuse by a family or household member, based on an allegation of a recent incident of abuse or threat of abuse by the family or household member" a judge can order an emergency protective order (California Family Code Section 6250).


Friends of mine, with a small child, often drink in their
home. At what point is drinking considered abuse?

Drinking alcohol in and of itself does not constitute child abuse. By law, drinking is legal for persons 21 years of age and older. However, if drinking leads to neglect, willful cruelty or unjustified punishment (which by definition includes the endangerment of the child’s person or health) or the physical injury or death of a child, it can then become a factor in a child abuse case. Infants and small children are particularly vulnerable to neglect and/or become endangered when a parent drinks or uses illegal substances to the point of losing consciousness or are unaware of their children’s needs.

If you suspect abuse of a
disabled child in a home or
institution, is it reportable as child abuse?

Yes. Any suspected child abuse or neglect should be reported. Children with disabilities are 3 to 7 times more likely to be victims of maltreatment than non-disabled children.

Is spanking a form of
child abuse?

While this subject is controversial, under California Welfare and Institutions Code Section 300(a), reasonable and age appropriate spanking to the buttocks where there is no evidence of serious physical injury does not constitute abuse. If in doubt, one should consult their local Child Protective Services agency.

At what age can a child legally be left alone?

The State of California does not specify any age at which a child can be left at home alone. Generally speaking, when leaving a child at home alone, a parent or caregiver should consider a number of factors, including: maturity level of the child, ability of the child to take care of his/her basic needs, availability of friends or neighbors to assist the child in case of an emergency, ability of the child to use the telephone to call emergency numbers, resources readily available to the child, and length of time the parent or caregiver intends to be away from the home.


What does the law say about
sex between minors?

California is one of the few states in the country that mandates reports of intimate partner abuse against adolescents under the age of 18, in addition to abuse perpetrated within the teen's home. Under the state's child abuse reporting statute, mandated reporters can report either to a local Child Protective Services (CPS) or law enforcement agency, and these agencies are required to cross-report to each other.
Statutory laws were first enacted to protect minors from older predators. In California, the age of consent for lawful sexual relationships is 18. California penal Code 261.5 (a) states: “Unlawful sexual intercourse is an anct of sexual intercourse accomplished with a person who is not the spouse of the perpetrator, if the person is a minor. For the purposes of this section, a “minor” is a person under the age of 18 years and an “adult” is a person who is at least 18 years of age.” Under current law, men are generally the ones to be held criminally liable for the act of sexual intercourse with a minor.

California Penal Code 261.5
(b), (c) and (d) defines the
age difference allowed between
a minor and sexual partner and whether it is a misdemeanor
or a felony.

California Penal Code 261.5 (b), (c) and (d) defines the age difference allowed between a minor and sexual partner and whether it is a misdemeanor or a felony. It states:
(b) Any person who engages in an act of unlawful sexual inercourse with a minor who is not more than three years older or three years younger than the perpetrator, is guilty of a misdemeanor ...
(c) Any person who engages in an act of unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor who is more than three years younger than the perpetrator is guilty of either a misdemeanor or a felony, and shall be punished by imprisonment in a county jail not exceeding one year, or by imprisonment in a state prison. . .
(d) Any person 21 years of age or older who engages in an act of unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor who is under 16 years of age is guilty of either a misdemeanor or a felony, and shall be punished by imprisonment in a county jail not exceeding one year, or by imprisonment in the state prison for two, three, or four years.”
In other words, when the age difference between the adult and the minor victim is more than three years; the charge is a felony; if three years or less, it is a misdemeanor. Civil penalties range from $2,000 to $25,000, depending on the age differences (P.C. 261.5 (e))
Mandated reports of sexual abuse are required for children under 18 (14 - 17 years) where there is sexual assault, sexual abuse, or sexual exploitation (as defined by penal Code 11165.1). (Further information on specific Penal Codes can be found at


What is not reportable?

• Voluntary sexual activity between children are both under the age of 15 years and who are of similqar age and sophistication is not a crime and need not be reported under the Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act. (people ex rel. Eichenberger v. Stockton Pregnancy Control Medical Clinic, Inc. (1988) 204 Cal.App.3d 225; Planned Parenthood Affiliates v. Van de Kamp (1986) 181 Cal.App.3d 245.)
• Pregnancy of a minor, does not, in and of itself, constitute the basis of a reasonable suspicion of sexual abuse (P.C. 11166 (1)). Pregnancy may be cause for a report if the pregnancy was conceived by a female under 16 and a male over 21.
Note: There is no law that requires health providers or other professionals who work with adolescents to ask the age of a patient's sexual partner(s).

How do I get training for mandated reporting of child abuse?
I reported an incident to CPS about my neighbor. It appears that
nothing has been done. What do I do? Will CPS tell me what they are doing?

Training is often given by one’s employer if you are considered a mandated reporter (i.e. teacher). Mandated reporters are those who are required by law to report known or suspected instances of child abuse. This includes a wide variety of jobs (public positions, health care personnel, public protection, and public contact). The specific positions are listed in Penal Code 11165.7.
Other opportunities or contacts for training can be found through one’s professional organization, the Child Abuse Training & Technical Assistance Centers (CATTA) , local Child Abuse Prevention Councils, and in some colleges. Online training in English and Spanish can be accessed at
Due to the laws of confidentiality, CPS will not share information about their investigation with you. However, if you are a mandated reporter, they will send you general information as to the status of the case, once it is investigated. If you are aware of another incident of child abuse that is life threatening you should report it immediately. If you believe there is a new incident of abuse or neglect, you should report it to CPS or law enforcement.

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