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How to Report Child Abuse

Child abuse can take many different forms—physical, emotional, and sexual—but it always causes harm to the child. Each state has slightly different child abuse laws and procedures for prosecuting charges like assault and battery or child endangerment. To fight child abuse, it’s important to look out for the telltale signs of abuse, including unexplained bruises or injuries, withdrawal from peers, and fear of going home. Once you suspect a child is being abused, knowing how to report child abuse and making the report is the key to ending the abuse.

Teachers, physicians, counselors, clergy, and other adults who have regular access to children are considered "mandatory reporters" of child abuse in most states. In other states, anyone suspecting abuse is a mandatory reporter. Failure to report by a mandatory reporter or the filing of false reports by anyone can be a crime punishable by a fine and/or jail sentence. Anyone who believes a child is being abused should report it to authorities. Here's how:

How to Report Child Abuse: State Procedures

In most states, the process begins with an anonymous phone call from the child or a relative, parent, witness, or mandatory reporter. The authorities who take the call will ask questions about what happened or what was observed. The authorities will ask additional questions to determine the credibility of the allegations. If a formal report is taken, a Child Protective Services worker will begin an investigation. The investigation may involve speaking with the child, his or her family, and other adults in the child’s life. The following is a sampling of state child abuse reporting procedures:

  • California – California Child Protective Services will determine whether an in-person response is necessary after the initial report. To report child abuse or neglect, call your county's emergency response hotline.
  • Illinois – Investigations into child abuse must be opened within 24 hours of the report or sooner if the child is in risk of imminent harm. Roughly 1 in 4 hotline calls result in a formal report and investigation.
  • Texas – Anyone who suspects child abuse is required to report it to the state's Department of Family and Protective Services, which records the names of reporters but keeps them confidential. The time frame for investigations vary by the severity of the allegations.

To contact the agency responsible for receiving and investigation child abuse & neglect reports in your state, visit the list of phone numbers and web addresses of state agencies maintained by the Child Welfare Information Gateway.

Reporting Child Abuse: Federal Assistance

As with most crimes against individuals, child abuse is prosecuted in state courts. However, the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) provides support through its Child Welfare Information Gateway, which promotes the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline. The hotline provides anonymous crisis assistance, counseling, and referral services 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at 1-800-422-4453.

Knowing how to report child abuse is extremely important, especially since it usually occurs behind closed doors. See FindLaw’s Child Abuse Laws and Child Abuse Resources sections for more information.

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