Through mandatory reporting statutes, the state requires certain individuals (called "mandatory reporters") to submit a report when they suspect child abuse and neglect. The laws generally impose penalties on these professionals if they suspect child abuse and neglect and do not report it.
Reports of suspected child abuse and neglect, as required by law, activate the child protection process. A report is considered when it contains enough information to justify the initiation of an investigation and it is discarded if it does not present enough information to follow up on an investigation or if the reported situation does not meet the legal definition of abuse or negligence. In these cases, the state agency may refer the person reporting the incident to other community services or the police for additional help.
While they may differ from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, all US states have enacted laws requiring that child abuse and neglect be mandatorily reported to a designated agency or official. Family courts have the authority to make decisions about what happens to a child after he or she has been identified as having been suffering some form of child abuse and therefore in need of state protection.
The main purpose of these courts is to protect the child and intervene in his life to promote his best interest and ensure his safety.
What happens after a report of Child Abuse and Neglect is taken into account to initiate an investigation?
Child Protective Services (CPS) social workers - often called investigators or evaluation workers - respond to the report within a particular time frame, which can be from a few hours to a few days, depending on the type of abuse reported, the possible severity of the situation, and the requirements of state law. They may speak with the parents and other people in contact with the child, such as doctors, teachers, and child care providers. They also may speak with the child, alone or in the presence of caregivers, depending on the child’s age and level of risk.
Children who are believed to be in immediate danger of suffering child abuse and neglect may be moved to a shelter, a foster home, or a relative’s home during the investigation and while court proceedings are pending. The investigator also engages the family, assessing its needs and initiate connections to community resources and services to put an end to child abuse and neglect. At the end of the investigation, CPS social workers may reach one of the following conclusions regarding the reported case: "unsubstantiated" (unfounded) or "substantiated" (founded). These procedures vary from State to State.
Child protective services will initiate legal action if they determine that the authority of the juvenile court is necessary to keep the child safe. To protect the child, the court may issue temporary orders such as placing the child in a shelter during the investigation, requesting services, or ordering certain people not to have contact with the child. At an adjudication hearing, the court hears the evidence and decides whether or not the maltreatment or abuse occurred and whether or not the child should be under the continuing jurisdiction of the court.
The court then makes a decision that may result in ordering the parents to provide the necessary services to alleviate the abuse or neglect. Orders may also contain provisions regarding visits between the parent and child, the agency's obligations to provide the parents with the services, and the services the child needs.