Mandated reporter

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In the United States and Canada, a mandated reporter is a person who is legally required to report observed or suspected abuse or neglect in children if the alleged perpetrator is a parent or legal guardian of the child, or a person who lives with the child such as a sibling or grandparent. Mandatory reporting laws generally apply to professionals who come into contact with children (for example, physicians, nurses, teachers, therapists, and childcare providers) while in other places, it applies to all adults. Failure to report when mandated comes with civil penalties, criminal prosecution, or both.

In many jurisdictions, mandatory reporting laws can also extend to adults who passed the age of majority but are deemed vulnerable to abuse, neglect, and financial exploitation due to a disability or old age. Hence, it is not uncommon for nursing homes or group homes staff to also be mandated to report. The Adult Protective Services protects these adults.[1][2]


In 1962, United States doctors C. Henry Kempe and Brandt Steele published "The Battered Child Syndrome",[3][4] which helped doctors identify child abuse, its effects, and the need to report serious physical abuse to legal authorities. Its publication changed the prevalent views in the United States, where child abuse was previously seen as uncommon, and not a regular issue.[5] In 1974, the United States Congress passed the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA), which provides funds to states for development of Child Protective Services (CPS) and hotlines to prevent serious injuries to children. These laws and the media and advocacy coverage and research brought about a gradual change in societal expectations on reporting in the United States and, at different rates, in other western nations.[6][7]

Originally created to respond to physical abuse, reporting systems in various countries began to expand to address sexual and emotional abuse, neglect, and exposure to domestic abuse. This expansion was accompanied by broader requirements for reporting abuse: previously reports were only submitted when an incident caused serious physical injury, but as the definitions changed, more minor physical injuries and developmental and psychological trauma began to be included as well.[8]

There has been a huge increase of reporting over the decades with enormous numbers of unsubstantiated cases.[9] Referrals increase each year, but the actual substantiated cases remain low and are approximately the same or decline each year.[10] Media and commentators often take the number of referrals to be synonymous with the number of cases of actual child maltreatment, which makes the problem appear larger than it is.[11]

In 2014, in response to the Penn State sex abuse scandal, then-Governor Tom Corbett passed a bill that extended the state's mandatory reporting obligations to include additional professionals as a measure to increase reports concerning child abuse. However, an article published by NBC News and ProPublica finds in the first half of the 2010s (before the changes), there were 29,766 children investigated with only 10,410 being sustained. In the later half of the decade, after the changes, the number of reported children was 42,366, but only 10,399 were sustained. Critics of mandatory reporting laws point out the number of fatalities relating to child abuse rose from 96 in 2014 to 194 in 2021 (seven years after the implementation).[12]

Statistics by country[edit]


In 2015–16, of the total number of notifications (355,935), 164,987 cases (involving 115,024 children) of child abuse were investigated or were in the process of being investigated. Of these investigations, 60,989 cases were substantiated [13]


Brazil has a mandatory reporting system for child maltreatment that is enforced by the health and educational systems, but due to the absence of national prevalence surveys, the difference between data generated by such mandatory reports and actual incidence of abuse is not known, although it is believed that mandatory report systems may result in underreporting. While specific data on mandatory reporting is unavailable, data collected from 314 municipalities (out of 5564) across the country revealed that in the second half of 2005 alone, 27,986 children received attention from the Social Welfare Centers: either because of sexual abuse (13,240), psychological violence (4,340), neglect (4,073), physical violence (3,436) and sexual exploitation (2,887). Most victims were in the 7–14 years group (17,738). 4,936 were under 6 years old.[14]


Canada provides data on substantiations but not reports.[15] In Canada in 2008,[15] 36% of all investigations were substantiated, with a further 8% of investigations where maltreatment remained suspected by the worker at the conclusion of the investigation and a further 5% with a risk of future maltreatment. 30% of investigations were unfounded and 17% resulted in no risk of future maltreatment was indicated.

United Kingdom[edit]

England provides data on substantiations but not reports.[16] In 2012, the UK reports 50,573 children were on child protection registers or subject to a child protection plan: England (42,850), Scotland (2,706), Wales (2,890), Northern Ireland (2,127).[17]

United States[edit]

In the US there was a 2348% increase in hotline calls from 150,000 in 1963 to 3.3 million in 2009.[9] In 2011, there were 3.4 million calls.[10] From 1992 to 2009 in the US, substantiated cases of sexual abuse declined 62%, physical abuse decreased 56% and neglect 10%. Although the referrals increase each year, about 1% of the child population is affected by any form of substantiated maltreatment.[18]

In the US, there are approximately 3.6 million calls each year: 9,000/day, 63,000/week,[10] affecting on average 1 out of 10 U.S. families with children under the age of 18 each year (there are 32.2 million such families).[19] From 1998 to 2011 there were a total of 43 million hotline calls.[10] Of those substantiated, over half are minor situations and many are situations where the worker thinks something may happen in the future. The largest category was neglect.[10]

Each year in the US, approximately 85% of hotline calls either do not warrant investigation or are not substantiated. Approximately 78% of all investigations are unsubstantiated and approximately 22% are substantiated, with around 9% where "alternative responses" are offered in some states, which have a focus on working with the family to address issues rather than confirming maltreatment.[20]

Criteria for mandatory reporting of child abuse by jurisdiction[edit]

The criteria for reporting vary significantly based on jurisdiction.[21] Typically, mandatory reporting applies to people who have reason to suspect the abuse or neglect of a child, but it can also apply to people who suspect abuse or neglect of a dependent adult or the elderly,[22] or to any members of society (sometimes called Universal Mandatory Reporting [UMR]).[23][24] A large majority of European countries – 86 percent – have some form of mandatory reporting; 77 percent of African countries do; 72 percent of Asian countries and 90 percent of the Americas do.[25]

In Australia, the Northern Territory requires all citizens to report suspected child abuse,[26] and the other states and territories have mandatory reporting for designated work roles.[27][28][29][30][31][32][33]

In Brazil, notification is mandatory in the health system, in schools and by the Child Protection Councils (CPC) network, present in many municipalities.[14]

In Malaysia, The Child Act 2001 requires any medical officer or medical practitioner, childcare provider or member of the family to notify his/her concerns, suspicions or beliefs that a child may have been abused or neglected to the appropriate child protection authority in the country. Failure to do so can result in criminal charges.[34]

In South Africa, Section 110 of the Children's Act, 2005 mandates 'Any correctional official, dentist, homeopath, immigration official, labour inspector, legal practitioner, medical practitioner, midwife, minister of religion, nurse, occupational therapist, physiotherapist, psychologist, religious leader, social service professional, social worker, speech therapist, teacher, traditional health practitioner, traditional leader or member of staff or volunteer worker at a partial care facility, drop-in centre or child and youth care centre' to report when they suspect that a child has been abused 'in a manner causing physical injury, sexually abused or deliberately neglected'. The Sexual Offences Act, 1957, compels all citizens who are aware of the sexual exploitation of children to report the offence to the police.[35]

Under UK law only local authority social workers, health and social service board social workers (Northern Ireland) and police have a duty to report suspicions that a child is in need of care and protection. Local child protection guidelines and professional codes of conduct may expect other professionals, such as teachers and medical staff, to report, but they do not have to do so as a matter of law.[23] Front-line professionals are also required to report cases of female genital mutilation.[36][37]

North America[edit]

In the United States, states frequently amend their laws, but as of April 2019 all states, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands have statutes identifying persons who are required to report suspected child maltreatment to an appropriate agency.[38]

Approximately 48 states, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands designate professions the members of which are mandated by law to report child maltreatment.[38]

As of April 2019, in 18 states and Puerto Rico, any person who suspects child abuse or neglect is required to report suspected abuse or neglect regardless of profession.[39] In all other States, territories, and the District of Columbia, any non-mandated person is also allowed to report.[38]

Canada imposes a mandatory requirement on all citizens, except in the Yukon Territory where it is restricted to those who come in contact with children in their professional roles.[40]

Mexico also has legislative reporting duties.[40]

European Union[edit]

The Council of Europe has urged all countries to have mandatory reporting of child abuse but several European countries do not. Fifteen member States (Bulgaria, Croatia, Denmark, Estonia, France, Hungary, Ireland, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Poland, Romania, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden, as well as the United Kingdom, which has left the EU on 31 January 2020) have reporting obligations in place for all professionals. In 10 member states (Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Greece, Finland, Italy, Latvia, Portugal and Slovakia) existing obligations only address certain professional groups such as social workers or teachers.[41]

More than half (15) of the EU member states (Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia and Sweden) have specific reporting obligations addressing civilians, with specific obligations for civilians to report cases of child abuse, neglect and/or exploitation. In many member states without specific provisions, general provisions on the obligation for all citizens to report a criminal act under national law apply, but with no specific obligation to report a child at risk of abuse.[42]

In Germany, Malta and the Netherlands, no reporting obligations were in place in March 2014. In Malta, however, the new draft Child Protection Act (Out of Home Care),[43] introduces the obligation of mandatory reporting for all professionals and volunteers.[41]

Processes for reporting[edit]

The processes for reporting vary greatly among jurisdictions.

Mandated reporters are usually required to give their name when they make a report. This allows investigators to contact them for further details if needed, and protects the mandated reporter from accusations that they did not report as required by law.[8][38][40]

Typically, reporters are encouraged to report their suspicions and not to investigate or wait for absolute proof, which can lead to further harm directed at the suspected victim, and allow for perpetrators to prepare their defence through intimidation. The investigation of the abuse is then left to professionals. Some jurisdictions allow clear protections for reports made in good faith, protecting the disclosure of the reporter's name.[8][38][40]

Innocence should be presumed unless and until evidence establishing guilt is obtained and it must be remembered that only suspicions are being reported.[44]

Professions and reporting[edit]

Mandated reporting requirements generally apply to professions that have frequent contact with children, although in some jurisdictions all citizens are required to report suspicions of some forms of abuse. Other jurisdictions have mandated requirements only of doctors or medical professionals.

Jurisdictions may note that, while these groups are legally required (mandated) to report, most jurisdictions allow for voluntary reports by any concerned people.

Clergy–penitent privilege and other exemptions[edit]

Conflicts between a mandated reporter's duties and some privileged communication statutes are common but, in general, attorney–client privileges and clergy–penitent privileges are exempt from mandatory reporting in many jurisdictions. In some states in the US, psychiatrist and psychologists are also exempt from mandatory reporting.[45]

"Clergy–penitent privilege" is privileged communication that protects communication between a member of the clergy and a communicant, who shares information in confidence. When applied, neither the minister nor the "penitent" can be forced to testify in court, by deposition, or other legal proceedings, about the contents of the communication.[46] Most US states provide the privilege, typically in rules of evidence or civil procedure, and the confidentiality privilege has also been extended to non-catholic clergy and non-Sacramental counseling.[47]


Originally created to respond to physical abuse, reporting systems in various countries have expanded the reportable incidents, when it was recognised that sexual and emotional abuse, neglect, and exposure to domestic abuse also have profound impacts on children's wellbeing.[8] Critics of investigations into reports of child abuse state that

  • A child may be wrongfully removed.
  • Long, repeated interrogations and physical examinations can leave emotional scars.
  • Even if not removed, there may be ongoing fear, distrust and insecurity.
  • Long-term foster care can leave lasting psychological scars and do irreparable damage to the parent/child bond.
  • An accusation of wrongdoing may disrupt a family even if allegations are dismissed.[48] Often threats and an assumption of guilt over innocence lead to feelings of powerlessness, inadequacy, depression, denial of due process and liberties, reputations tarnished and privacy invaded, and legal consequences if assumed guilty.[49]
  • There may be economic harm due to the need to obtain legal representation to defend one's self and comply with the requirements demanded of them.

Critics state that mandatory reporting may also

  • overload the child welfare system and increase the tax burden.[50]
  • increase the number of unfounded reports[51] or reports that (due to vague and broad laws) do not merit governmental interference.[52]
  • jeopardize the ability of people, including abused people, to seek medical treatment or maintain a therapeutic relationship, for fear of being reported.
  • disproportionately affect African-American families.[53]
  • discourage fellow citizens from taking positive neighborhood action with families in trouble, as they may consider that their responsibilities have been met when they call in an anonymous hotline.[52]

They also state that mandatory reporting laws have had unintended consequences for the accused. Individuals, including juveniles, who have never been convicted of anything may be placed on CPS Central Registries/databases (different from Sex Abuse Registries) for decades, limiting educational and employment opportunities due to background checks.[citation needed] There is a 1.2–12.3% recidivism rate (repeat substantiations within 6 months of initial substantiations).[54] Some parents who have successfully managed a drug addiction and who are still receiving treatment have been subject to mandatory reporting, even though there was no suspicion of abuse of children or of drugs.[55]

See also[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^,or%20suspect%20it%20is%20occurring.
  3. ^ C. Henry Kempe and Ray E. Helfer, editors: The Battered Child. 1st edition, 1968. 2nd edition, Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1974. 3rd edition, 1980. 5th edition by M. E. Helfer, R. Kempe, and R. Krugman, 1997.
  4. ^ C. H. Kempe, Frederic N. Silverman, Brandt F. Steele, William Droegemuller, Henry K. Silver: "The Battered Child Syndrome." Journal of the American Medical Association, 1962, 181: 17–24. Tardieu's syndrome. Also called Caffey–Kempe syndrome.
  5. ^ Wolff, Larry (4 January 2013). "The Battered-Child Syndrome: 50 Years Later". Huffington Post.
  6. ^ Krason, Stephen M. (2007). "The Critics Of Current Child Abuse Laws And The Child Protective System: A Survey Of The Leading Literature". The Catholic Social Science Review. p. 307,308,307–350.
  7. ^ Douglas J. Besharov (1985). ""Doing Something" About Child Abuse: The Need to Narrow the Grounds For State Intervention". Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy. Harvard J.L. & Pub. Pol’y. 8: 539–590.
  8. ^ a b c d Bromfield, Leah; Holzer, Prue. "Australian Institute of Family Studies Submission to the Special Commission of Inquiry into Child Protection Services in NSW". National Child Protection Clearinghouse. CiteSeerX {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  9. ^ a b Krason, Stephen M. (2013). "The Mondale Act and Its Aftermath: An Overview of Forty Years of American Law, Public Policy, and Governmental Response to Child Abuse and Neglect" (PDF). Scarecrow Press. pp. 1–58. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2015-05-18. Retrieved 2013-08-28.
  10. ^ a b c d e Children’s Bureau, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (2013). "Annual NCANDS Reports 1996-2011".
  11. ^ Joan E. Durrant (2012). "Child Abuse in Sweden". The Natural Child Project.
  12. ^,nearly%20double%20the%20rate%20of
  13. ^ "Child abuse and neglect statistics". Child Family Community Australia. 2017-06-15. Archived from the original on 2016-02-29. Retrieved 2019-01-02.
  14. ^ a b Cardia, Nancy; Lagatta, Pedro; Affonso, Claudinei. "Assessment of Child Maltreatment Prevention Readiness Country Report Brazil" (PDF). World Health Organization. Retrieved 14 August 2015.
  15. ^ a b Public Health Agency of Canada (2010). "Canadian Incidence Study of Reported Child Abuse and Neglect- 2008".
  16. ^ NSPCC (2012). "Children subject to child protection plans – England 2008-2012". NSPCC Inform.
  17. ^ NSPCC (2012). "Child protection registers statistics/UK 2008-2012". NSPCC Inform.
  18. ^ Finkelhor, David; Lisa Jones; Anne Shuttuch. "Updated Trends in Child Maltreatment, 2010" (PDF). University of New Hampshire, Crimes Against Children Research Center. Archived from the original (PDF) on 10 October 2012. Retrieved 19 December 2011.
  19. ^ U.S. Department of Commerce, Economics and Statistics Administration, Bureau of the Census, Table H. "Projections of the Number of Households and Families in the United States: 1995 to 2010, P25-1129" (PDF).{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  20. ^ U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Youth and Families, Children’s Bureau (2010). "National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System (NCANDS) 2009 Child Maltreatment Report" (PDF).{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  21. ^ Mathews, Ben (2014). "Mandatory Reporting Laws and Identification of Child Abuse and Neglect: Consideration of Differential Maltreatment Types, and a Cross-Jurisdictional Analysis of Child Sexual Abuse Reports". Social Sciences. 3 (3): 460–482. doi:10.3390/socsci3030460. ISSN 2076-0760.
  22. ^ Los Angeles County, California Department of Community and Senior Services. "APS (adult protective services) Mandated Reporters".
  23. ^ a b Madge, M; K. Attridge (1996). Children and families. Social care in Europe. B. Munday and P. Ely, Prentice Hall.
  24. ^ Ho, GWK (May 2017). "Universal Mandatory Reporting Policies and the Odds of Identifying Child Physical Abuse". American Journal of Public Health. 107 (5): 709–716. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2017.303667. PMC 5388942. PMID 28323475.
  25. ^ Perry, Tom. "Child abuse needs mandatory reporting to create a high-risk environment for paedophiles". The Independent. Retrieved 14 August 2015.
  26. ^ Northern Territory Department of Health and Families. "Remote Health Atlas- Mandatory Reporting overview" (PDF).
  27. ^ Western Australia Department of Child Protection. "Mandatory reporting in Western Australia".
  28. ^ South Australia Department of Education and Child Development. "Mandatory notification – obligations of individuals and organisations". Archived from the original on 2014-03-05. Retrieved 2013-08-04.
  29. ^ Tasmanian Department of Disability, Child, Youth and Family Services. "Mandatory Reporting of Child Abuse and/or Neglect" (PDF).{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  30. ^ Victorian Department of Human Services. "Child Protection Practice Manual".
  31. ^ NSW Department of Family and community Services- Community Services. "Resources for mandatory reporters".
  32. ^ Queensland Department of communities, child Safety and Disability Services. "Mandatory notifiers and reporting".
  33. ^ ACT Department of community Services. "Care and Protection Services". Archived from the original on 2013-05-15. Retrieved 2013-08-04.
  34. ^ "Report Abuse". UNICEF. Archived from the original on 10 September 2015. Retrieved 14 August 2015.
  35. ^ Hendricks, ML (August 2014). "Mandatory reporting of child abuse in South Africa: Legislation explored". South African Medical Journal. 104 (8): 550–552. doi:10.7196/SAMJ.8110. PMID 25213842.
  36. ^ Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003 S. 5B
  37. ^ "Crime and policing news update: February 2015 - GOV.UK".
  38. ^ a b c d e National Clearinghouse on Child Abuse and Neglect Information (NAIC) (April 2019). "Mandatory Reporters of Child Abuse and Neglect" (PDF). Child Welfare Information Gateway.
  39. ^ See, e.g., Kentucky Revised Statutes § 620.030, which also requires all citizens to report suspected trafficking or female genital mutilation of children.
  40. ^ a b c d Mathews, Benjamin (2008). "Mandatory reporting legislation in the USA, Canada and Australia: a cross-jurisdictional review of key features, differences, and issues" (PDF). Retrieved 4 August 2013.
  41. ^ a b "Provisions on professionals' legal obligation to report cases of child abuse, neglect and violence". European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights. Archived from the original on 18 July 2015. Retrieved 15 August 2015.
  42. ^ "Specific legal obligations for civilians to report cases of child abuse, neglect and violence". European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights. Archived from the original on 18 July 2015. Retrieved 15 August 2015.
  43. ^ "Child Protection Act (Out of Home Care), 2014". Retrieved 15 August 2015.
  44. ^ Besharov, Douglas J (Summer 1994). "Responding to Child Sexual Abuse: The Need for a Balanced Approach" (PDF). The Future of Children. 4 (2): 136, 135–155. doi:10.2307/1602528. JSTOR 1602528. PMID 7804761.
  45. ^ Child Welfare Information Gateway. (2016). Mandatory reporters of child abuse and neglect. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Children's Bureau. Retrieved from
  46. ^ American Bar Association (December 1, 2006). American Bar Association (ed.). "Answers to Questions about the Attorney–Client Privilege". ABA Now.[permanent dead link]
  47. ^ Child Welfare Information Gateway (2012). Children’s Bureau (ed.). "Clergy as Mandatory Reporters of Child Abuse and Neglect" (PDF). pp. 1–19.
  48. ^ Sabrina Luza & Enrique Ortiz (1991). "The Dynamic of Shame in Interactions Between Child Protective Services and Families Falsely Accused of Child Abuse". IPT. 3.
  49. ^ Chill, Paul (October 2003). "Burden Of Proof Begone: The Pernicious Effect Of Emergency Removal In Child Protective Proceedings". Social Science Research Network. pp. 1–43. SSRN 1886506. {{cite web}}: Missing or empty |url= (help)
  50. ^ The Associated Press (2012-06-10). "Jerry Sandusky sex abuse case has states re-examining mandatory reporter laws".
  51. ^ Anna Stolley Persky. "Beyond the Penn State Scandal: Child Abuse Reporting Laws". Archived from the original on 2012-11-10. Retrieved 2012-12-09.
  52. ^ a b Orr, Susan (1 October 1999). "Policy Study 262 Child Protection at the Crossroads: Child Abuse, Child Protection and Recommendations for Reform" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 24 May 2013.
  53. ^ LCSW, Dr Kenneth Lau; LCSW, Ms Kathryn Krase JD; LMSW, Mr Richard H. Morse (2008-12-02). Mandated Reporting of Child Abuse and Neglect: A Practical Guide for Social Workers. Springer Publishing Company. ISBN 9780826117823. Retrieved 2015-05-13.
  54. ^ US Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Children’s Bureau (2010). "Child Welfare Outcomes 2007-2010, Report to Congress" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2016-12-27. Retrieved 2013-08-22.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  55. ^ Matt Stout (June 14, 2023). "Six years sober, she was still reported for child abuse for taking addiction medication. Is it time to change the rules?".

External links[edit]