Frequently Asked Questions
Why are some people required to report suspected child abuse and neglect?
Our society has a stake in protecting children from abuse and neglect because the consequences of failing to do so are serious — for the children and for society. Certain governmental authorities have been given the legal responsibility to intervene when there is reasonable cause to suspect maltreatment, and government and community services are available to help the child and family if needed. But first the children in need of protection must be identified and brought to the attention of the designated authorities. That is the role of reporters: to refer children who may be in need of protection. And certain persons are required to report because their job functions bring them into contact with children. Mandated reporters are in a unique position to connect endangered children and their families to necessary protection and services. In some instances, a report can mean the difference between life and death for a child.
How do I know what to report? Do I just use my own judgment about what I think is bad for children?
As a mandated reporter, you are required to report suspected child abuse and neglect. The definitions of a child abuse and neglect — what you are required to report — are found in s.48.02 of the Wisconsin Statutes. You do not need to be an expert in the definitions; that is the responsibility of CPS and the law enforcement and court systems. You just need to understand the definitions well enough so that you are prepared to recognize situations that might be maltreatment.
Can I report anonymously?
Yes. Anyone can. But there are a few things to consider:
- If you report anonymously, there will be no proof that you fulfilled your legal mandate to report suspected maltreatment.
- You won’t be able to get the feedback that persons mandated to report under s.48.981 of the Wisconsin Statutes are entitled to receive.
- The CPS or law enforcement agency will be unable to contact you for more information they may need.
If I believe that other professionals involved with a family may have already reported, do I still need to make a report if I suspect maltreatment?
It is never a good idea to assume that someone else has made a report. Consider the possible tragic consequences for a maltreated child if all potential reporters assume that someone else has reported. Even if someone has, you could have information that the other person did not know and did not report, information important to decision-making in the case. A mandated reporter has an individual responsibility to report if he or she suspects maltreatment. That doesn’t prevent you from making a joint report with someone else in your agency, if you both suspect maltreatment of a specific child or children. In any event, it is standard procedure for CPS and law enforcement agencies to accept and document all reports they receive, even if they regard the same child or same incident.
What if I suspect that maltreatment has occurred but don’t have much information to give to CPS or the law enforcement agency?
If you suspect, you must immediately report. Share what information you can. Do not delay reporting in an attempt to collect more information. The CPS or law enforcement agency will determine what further steps might be needed, based on the information you provide and any other information they might have or be able to obtain.
What if I suspect that a child has been maltreated but have a good relationship with the family and believe I can give them the help they need without reporting? Can’t I try to help them first, and then report only if they don’t respond to my help?
If you suspect maltreatment, you must immediately report. There are no exceptions, other than those specified in the law. The assistance you might provide could certainly be helpful to the family, but it would likely only be a portion of what the family needs to assure that the children are kept safe and are not maltreated. That is the purpose of CPS – to assess service needs related to child safety and assure that the family receives the services targeted to those needs.
What if I suspect that my neighbor is maltreating his child? Am I required to report?
If you are a mandated reporter under s. 48.981 of the Wisconsin Statutes, you are only required to report suspected maltreatment if you see the child while performing your professional duties. If you are mandated to report only by EO #54, you are only required to report if you observe or learn of an incident or threat of child abuse while on the job.
However, anyone may report and is protected by law if he or she does so in good faith.
Why does CPS “screen out” some reports? Why doesn't CPS investigate every report it receives?
Courts have determined that families have a right to privacy under the Constitution. That includes the right to raise their children as they see fit, as long as the basic needs of the children are being met. CPS has the authority to intrude in how a family cares for its children if there is reasonable cause to suspect that child abuse or neglect has occurred or will occur. Reporters are not expected to be experts in determining whether that threshold — reasonable cause to suspect maltreatment — has been reached. CPS must make that determination based on the reporter’s information and any other information CPS might have. That results in some reports being screened out. However, you should not fail to report suspected child maltreatment, because you anticipate that CPS will screen out the report. If you suspect maltreatment, you must report.
Does CPS always remove children from the home?
The first priority of CPS is the safety of the child, but that does not necessarily mean that the child will be removed from the home. CPS first does an evaluation of home conditions to determine whether the children are safe. If the safety evaluation results in a judgment that the children are not safe, CPS will strategize various interventions that could keep the children safe in the home, if at all possible. The children are only removed if a determination is made that the children cannot be kept safe within the home, even with available supports and services.
What if I truly don’t know whether I suspect maltreatment? Sometimes there is not a clear line between suspicion and no suspicion.
When in doubt, make the report. Let the designated authorities — CPS and the law enforcement agency — sort it out. That is their job.
Why does CPS ask if the child has American Indian heritage?
The best interests of an Indian child are not exactly the same as the best interests of a non-Indian child. Therefore, Indian children must be identified as quickly as possible when child maltreatment is suspected. Indian tribes are sovereign nations and have the right to intervene if an Indian child of that tribe might be removed from his or her home, even when the child does not reside on tribal lands.Back