Most professionals who work with children and families are "mandated reporters" of suspected child maltreatment. Sometimes they are also called "mandatory reporters". All doctors, nurses, teachers, social workers, and many other mental and physical health professionals are considered "mandated reporters" in their states. Mandated reporters are required by the law in their given state to make reports to the government agency usually called "child protective services", or CPS for short, when they have a certain level of suspicion that a child has been abused or neglected, or that the child is in danger of being abused or neglected.
Many professionals learn about their responsibilities as mandated reporters through their education or training program. So, they usually learn about how to analyze situations where they develop suspicions during the responsibilities in their job. As a result, they often wonder:
Am I always a mandated reporter?
Or just when I'm working?
If you are a mandated reporter, you are always required to make a report to child protective services when your concerns develop from your professional responsibilities, and your level of suspicion meets a certain legal threshold.
Do I have to report suspicions that involve friends, neighbors, family members, or strangers I see on the street?
Some mandated reporters are only required to report suspicions that develop through their professional responsibilities. However, other mandated reporters are required to report suspicions that develop through their personal lives, as well. Which situation applies to you depends on which state you are in when your suspicions develop.
In thirty-two (32) states, mandated reporters are ONLY required to make reports to CPS when the suspicions they have regarding child abuse or neglect rise from their role as that professional. In other words: in these states, when you’re “wearing your professional hat” in at task for your job, you are a mandated reporter. In these 32 states, concerns about family members, friends, neighbors, and strangers you see on the street, are NOT required by law. In these states, if your suspicions of child maltreatment develop outside the confines of your professional obligations, then you are not a mandated reporter. When you have suspicions that arise outside of your professional role in these states, you CAN make a report, but you are NOT REQUIRED to do so.
What are "Universal Reporting" States
As of December 2022, there are eighteen (18) states, plus Puerto Rico, that are considered "Universal Reporting States" where all adults are mandated reporters, regardless of their professional role. These states are: Delaware, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming (See map above).
Universal reporting states require ALL ADULTS, regardless of professional role, to report suspicions of child abuse and neglect. In these states, you must report the suspicions you have concerning family, friends, neighbors, and that family you see on your way to work.
You see a mark on a child that looks like the strap from a belt. You ask the child what happened to cause the mark, they tell you they got in trouble for being disrespectful to their parent, and the parent hit them with a belt. This is by definition child physical abuse in all states because the corporal punishment caused physical injury to the child.
(For more information, check out our blog: When is Spanking Considered Child Abuse)
Are you required to report this situation to CPS?
If you are in a universal reporting state, then you are required to report this situation to CPS regardless of how you learned about the case. If this is your neighbor or family member, the law in universal reporting states requires you to make that report. If you're a teacher, doctor, social worker, etc, you are also required to make that report.
If you are NOT in a universal reporting state, then you are only required to report this situation to CPS if you learned about the case through a professional role that is identified as a mandated reporter in that state's law. Therefore, teachers, doctors, social workers, etc., are required to report this situation to CPS, as long as they learned of the case through their professional responsibility.
If you are NOT in a universal reporting state, and you learn about this situation outside of your professional role, even if you are a mandated reporter, you are NOT required to make a report to CPS. However, the law in all states allows you to make a report to CPS in this situation, even though the law does not require you to do so.
To Find Out More
To find out if your professional role means you are a mandated reporter in your state, or if you're required to make reports regardless of your professional role because you live in a "Universal Reporting State", you can check out this helpful resource that is updated regularly:
The Child Welfare Gateway is an office of the United States Department of Health and Human Services. They have other helpful resources to inform you about the law around mandated reporting in your particular state.