Considerations, requirements and insights on mandated reporting.

Recent national surveys have suggested that professionals who are mandated to report suspected child abuse and neglect report only about half the incidents about which they knew. They reported being confused about the reporting laws and procedures, being unsure of the warning signs or cues of child abuse and neglect or unclear about how abuse or neglect is defined by state law. You have already learned quite a lot about New York State’s legal definitions of child abuse and neglect, and the warning signs of child abuse or maltreatment, so you should be more confident about when you think you suspect it and need to report it.

In this section and the next, we will clarify the reporting laws and procedures so that you are sure of the process of reporting, and clear as to why it is mandated for social workers and other professionals. The majority of suspected child abuse or maltreatment reports registered annually are made by mandated reporters.

The Child Protective Services Act of 1973 provided the law that requires mandated reporting. The law requires mandatory reporting of suspected child abuse or maltreatment by specific professionals. Mandated reporters are those professionals who, while acting in their professional capacity, are required by law to report suspected incidents of child abuse or maltreatment/neglect. They are required to report anytime that a person is acting within the scope of their employment or carrying out functions as part of the duties and responsibilities of their profession. The law also required the creation of a round-the-clock central registry, known as the State Central Registry (SCR) in New York, which is operated by the New York State Office for Children and Youth Services (OCFS). The Child Protective Services Act also required the creation of local Child Protective Services (CPS) to receive and investigate registered reports.

The following persons are considered mandated child abuse reporters in New York State:

  • Physician
  • Surgeon
  • Intern
  • Registered nurse
  • Hospital treatment provider
  • Psychiatrist
  • Resident psychologist
  • Mental health professional
  • Chiropractor
  • Dentist
  • Dental hygienist
  • Optometrist
  • Podiatrist
  • Osteopath
  • District attorney
  • Assistant district attorney
  • Coroner
  • Medical examiner
  • Law enforcement investigator
  • Police officer
  • Peace officer
  • Social worker
  • School official*
  • Child care worker
  • Day care worker
  • Day care provider
  • Foster care worker
  • Social services worker**
  • Residential care worker/ volunteer
  • Christian science practitioner

*As of October 1, 2007, this now includes, but is not limited to, school teacher, school guidance counselor, school psychologist, school social worker, school nurse, school administrator or other school personnel required to hold a teaching or administrative license or certificate.

**As of October 1, 2007, social services workers are defined as staff of social service agencies. Social services workers must make a report when a person comes before them, not the parent, child or other legally responsible person, just a person.

Mandated reporters must report child abuse:

  • When they have a reasonable cause to suspect that a child whom the reporter sees in his or her professional or official capacity is abused or maltreated; or
  • Whenever a mandated reporter suspects child abuse or maltreatment while acting in his or her professional capacity as a staff member of a medical or other public or private institution, school, facility or agency, he or she shall immediately notify the person in charge of that school, facility, institution or his or her designated agent. Such person in charge, or the designated agent of such person, shall be responsible for all subsequent administration necessitated by the report. Any report shall include the name, title and contact information for every staff person of the institution who is believed to have direct knowledge of the allegations in the report. Note: this is not intended to require more than one report from any institution, school or agency.
  • No retaliatory personnel action is allowed against those who make a report to the SCR. No employer can establish or impose any conditions, prior approval or prior notification, upon a member of their staff mandated to report suspected child abuse or maltreatment.

Professional capacity: When a person is acting within the scope of their employment or carrying out functions as part of the duties and responsibilities of their profession.

Mandated reporters are to report suspected child abuse or maltreatment immediately, by telephone, at any time of day, seven days a week, to the New York State Central Register of Child Abuse and Maltreatment (SCR).

  1. Use the Mandated Reporter Express Line: 800.635.1522.
  2. The non-mandated reporter hotline number is 800.342.3720.
  3. A written report must be filed within 48 hours of this call. 

A person can have reasonable cause to suspect that a child is abused or maltreated if, considering what physical evidence her or she observes or is told about, and from his or her own training and experience, it is possible that the injury or condition was caused by neglect or by non-accidental means. The reporter need not be absolutely certain that the injury or condition was caused by neglect or by non-accidental means; the reporter should only be able to entertain the possibility that it could have been neglect or non-accidental to possess the necessary reasonable cause.

A reasonable cause to suspect means that based on what you have observed or been told, combined with your training and experience, you feel that harm or imminent danger of harm to the child could be the result of an act of omission by the person legally responsible for the child. Explanations of injuries that are inconsistent with your observations and/or knowledge may be a basis for your reasonable suspicion.

Certainty is not required. To be suspicious, it is enough for the mandated reporter to distrust or doubt what he or she personally observes or is told. In child abuse cases, many factors can and should be considered in the formation of that doubt or distrust. Physical and behavioral indicators may also be helpful in forming a reasonable basis of suspicion. While these are not diagnostic criteria of child abuse or maltreatment, they illustrate patterns that may be recorded in the written report when relevant.

The first mandated reporter who suspects child maltreatment is legally required to immediately report their concerns directly to the State Central Register by phone. In 2007, the NY State Legislature passed a law that requires that all mandated reporters of child abuse directly and personally report their concerns to the state central registry. That means that that no institution should have a “designated reporter” who makes reports, or a committee or persons who decide whether or not reports of abuse or neglect get made. Social workers or other administrators or mental health professionals cannot be considered “designated reporters”. If a teacher in a school or a worker in an institution who is a mandated reporter comes to you with concern of child abuse, you should remind them that it is their obligation to call it in directly. If you are the source of the report, you would make the call.

You do not need to seek permission or approval from a supervisor before calling concerns of child maltreatment in to the State Central Register. According to the New York State Office of Children and Family Services Summary Guide for Mandated Reporters, and to NY State law, supervisors or administrators cannot require their prior approval to be given before an employee files a report of child abuse or neglect. Additionally, an agency, school or institution cannot require that a mandated reporter notify a supervisor before such a report is made to the SCR. Supervisors cannot forbid or dissuade an employee from making a report. Also, punitive action cannot be taken or threatened against any individual for making a report to the State Central Register. You are required to let a supervisor know after a report has been made.

Find a private place, if at all possible, and remain calm. Use your best social work interview techniques––be honest, open and up front with the child. Remain supportive, and actively listen to the child. Stress that it’s not the child’s fault. Don’t overreact, make judgments or make promises. Try not to interrogate the child or investigate on your own. This is especially true in sexual abuse cases. Simply reach your decision and, if you suspect child abuse or maltreatment, report the situation immediately.

Mandated reporters are subject to serious consequences for failure to report. Any mandated reporter who willfully fails to report may be guilty of a Class A misdemeanor, and/or may be civilly liable for the damages caused by such failure, including wrongful death suits. A Class A misdemeanor can result in a penalty of up to one year in jail, a fine of up to $1,000 or both. In New York State, it is important to remember that Child Protective Services cannot act until child abuse/maltreatment is identified and reported. No service can be offered to the family nor can processes to protect the child begin until a report is made. Mandated reporters must call the SCR to ensure immunity and be protected from criminal and civil liability. If the mandated reporter calls the local county CPS or a law enforcement official, then that mandated reporter has not fulfilled their legal duty to the SCR. To encourage prompt and complete reporting of suspected child abuse and maltreatment, the Social Services Law, Section 419, affords the reporter certain legal protections from liability. Mandated reporters who make good faith efforts to report, take photographs, and/or take protective custody of children suspected of having been abused and/or maltreated, have immunity from any liability, civil, or criminal, that might result from such actions. They are presumed to have done so in good faith as long as they were acting in the discharge of their official duties and within the scope of their employment and so long as their actions did not result from willful misconduct or gross negligence. The good faith of such a person, official or institution required to report is presumed. This means if a person accuses you of making a false report in bad faith, they must prove you acted with gross negligence or willful misconduct.

Confidentiality to the reporter is assured by New York State Law (SSL 442 (4) (A). OCFS and the local child protective service units are not permitted to release any identifying data of the person who made the report to the subject of a report, unless the reporter has given written permission for the central register or the local child protective services unit to do so. Information regarding the report source may be shared by OCFS or the local CPS with certain individuals (e.g., courts, police, district attorney), but only as provided by law.

Telephone reports should be made to the New York State Central Register of Child Abuse and Maltreatment (SCR) Mandated Reporter Express Line.

Calls to this hotline are given priority: 800.635.1522.

Two copies of the written report, on form LDSS-2221A (A Report of Suspected Child Abuse or Maltreatment) should be signed by the reporter and filed with the local child protective services unit (CPS) within 48 hours of the telephone report.

The form can be obtained online or from the local child protective services unit. Should the situation you are reporting involve child/children from out of state or away from his or her home (in foster care or residential care), the report should be sent to the:

New York State Child Abuse and Maltreatment Register
40 North Pearl Street
Albany, NY 12243

Information about how to contact the New York City, Nassau and Suffolk County Child Protective Service Units can be found under Additional Resources.

Reporters may find it useful to keep notes for themselves, highlighting details such as dates, times, places, names, etc.

Reporters should remember that for the purposes of reporting suspected child abuse and maltreatment, the definition of who can be the subject of the report means any parent, guardian, custodian or other person 18 years of age or older who is legally responsible for a child reported to the SCR and who is allegedly responsible for causing—or allowing the infliction of—injury, abuse or maltreatment to such child.

Subject of the report may also mean an operator of or employee or volunteer in a home operated or supervised by an authorized agency, the Division for Youth, an office of the Department of Mental Hygiene, or a family day care home, day care center, group family day care home or a day services program, who is allegedly responsible for causing—or allowing the infliction of—injury, abuse or maltreatment to such child.

Should the abuse or maltreatment be caused by individuals other than the above highlighted persons (such as neighbors or strangers), law enforcement authorities should be contacted.

Most persons find it helpful to complete a draft of the LDSS-2221A (A Report of Suspected Child Abuse or Maltreatment) prior to making the telephone report, as you will be asked very similar information. Mandated reporters should report the following as part of the telephone report:

  • Names and addresses of the child and his or her parents or other person responsible for his or her care
  • The child’s age, gender, race or other demographic data
  • The nature and extent of the child’s injuries, abuse or maltreatment, including any evidence of prior patterns of injuries, abuse or maltreatment to the child or his or her siblings
  • Name of the person(s) responsible for causing the injury, abuse or maltreatment
  • Family composition
  • The source of the report
  • Information regarding yourself as the reporter, including name, title and contact information for yourself and for any other mandated reporters or other persons with direct knowledge of abuse and neglect from your agency
  • Actions taken by the reporting source, including the taking of photographs or X-rays, removal or keeping of the child, or notifying the medical examiner or coroner
  • Any additional information that may be helpful, including where the child is currently, if there are any special needs or medications of the child, concerns local CPS should be aware of (weapons, dogs, etc.), or whether an interpreter will be required

Please note: The lack of complete information should not keep you from reporting.

If the report you make is registered by the CPS specialist, be sure to ask for the call identification number assigned to your report, as well as the full name of the CPS specialist you are speaking with. The identification number should be put on the written LDSS-221A form.

You can request a Summary of Findings, which will be sent to you following the completion of the investigation and determination of the outcome. Remember, simply because you are calling as a mandated reporter does not mean that a report will automatically be registered. If the SCR cannot register the report you are trying to make, the reason for their decision should be clearly explained to you and you should be offered an opportunity to speak to a supervisor.

Sometimes situations are more appropriate for referral to preventive services. In this case, you may contact the local CPS directly to get the family the help they need. If you are not satisfied in other ways with the outcome of your call, be sure to speak with a supervisor. One is available around the clock and can be very helpful in clarifying issues and reviewing decisions whenever this is necessary.

When the circumstances of your call to the SCR constitute a crime or an immediate threat to the child’s health or safety, but the report is not able to be registered, the SCR will send the information to the New York State Police or the New York City Police for necessary action. These are known as LERs, or Law Enforcement Referrals. LERs are not assigned a call identification number, and you do not need to complete the LDSS-2221A form.

After you complete your call to the SCR, immediately notify the person in charge of the institution, school, facility or agency, or the designated agent of the person in charge, and provide the information reported to the SCR, including the names of other persons identified as having direct knowledge or the alleged abuse or maltreatment and other mandated reporters identified as having reasonable cause to suspect.

The written report, on form DSS-2221 (A Report of Suspected Child Abuse or Maltreatment) can be downloaded online. It can also be obtained from the local child protective services unit.

You have 48 hours after your call to the hotline to complete this form. Remember that the safety of the child must come before the completion of the form. Information to include in the report is identical to that which was given in the telephone report. The reporter should write as clearly and objectively as possible. These are admissible as evidence in judicial proceedings. Accurate completion of the form is vital. Once completed, send the original and a copy to the local CPS office. Be sure to keep a copy on file for yourself.

When allegations contained in the phone call from a reporter can reasonably constitute a report of child abuse or maltreatment, such allegations are immediately transmitted by the New York State Department of Social Services to the appropriate local child protective service unit for investigation. This is then considered a registered report. If the department records indicate a previous report concerning a subject of the report, other persons named in the report or other pertinent information, the appropriate agency or local child protective service must be immediately notified of this fact.

The report is then investigated and a safety assessment is performed by the local CPS. The CPS agency is required to begin their investigation within 24 hours. While their first task is to determine if there is some credible evidence of abuse or maltreatment, they have 60 days to conduct their full investigation and develop a service plan. All the while, an ongoing assessment of the child occurs. A determination is then made whether or not there is credible, worthy of belief, evidence of child abuse or maltreatment. The report is then either indicated or unfounded. If it is unfounded, it is sealed and expunged 10 years after the receipt of the report. In some cases, unfounded cases may be referred for community services. If it is indicated, a determination is made about whether continued services are needed. If services are needed, a service plan is developed and there is continued monitoring of the needed services being provided. If services are no longer needed, the case is closed.

Summary Guide for Mandated Reporters

Effective November 21, 2005, New York State law requires mandated reporters who make a report that initiates an investigation of an allegation of child abuse or maltreatment to comply with all requests for records made by CPS relating to such report. The mandated reporter to whom the request is directed makes the determination of what information is essential. This applies only to the records of the mandated reporter who made the report of suspected child abuse or maltreatment. The purpose of the inclusion of these records is to support a full investigation of allegations of child abuse or maltreatment and clarifies the obligation that has always been a part of the law regarding mandated reporting in NY.

A mandated reporter can receive, upon request, the findings of an investigation made pursuant to his or her report. This request can be made to the SCR at the time of making the report, or to the local CPS at any time thereafter. However, no information can be released unless the reporter’s identity is confirmed.

If the request is made prior to the completion of the investigation of the report, the information released will be limited to whether the report is indicated (substantiated), unfounded or under investigation.

If the request is made after the completion of the investigation, the information released will be limited to whether a report is indicated, or, if the report has been expunged, that there is no record of such report. (Records are expunged for lack of credible evidence of alleged abuse or maltreatment after an investigation, or 10 years after the 18th birthday of the youngest child named in the report.)

Mandated reporters may take, or cause to be taken, at public expense, color photographs of the area of trauma on the child. Summary Guide for Mandated Reporters for the photography of trauma.

Mandated reporters can also ask that X-rays be taken if medically indicated. These photos or X-rays must accompany the DSS-2221-A, or be sent as soon as possible after its submission, appropriately identified with the child’s name, the date and the name of the person who took them.

A child may be taken into protective custody, without court order or parental consent, if:

  • The child is in such circumstances or condition that continuing to stay in his or her residence or in the care and custody of the parent or person legally responsible for the child’s care, presents an imminent danger to the child’s life or health
  • There is not enough time to apply for an order of temporary removal from the Family Court

Persons legally authorized to place the child into protective custody include:

  • Peace officers
  • Police officers
  • Law enforcement officials
  • Agents of a duly incorporated society for the prevention of cruelty to children
  • Designated employees of a city or county department of social services
  • Persons in charge of a hospital or similar institution

These authorized persons are to take the following actions:

  • She or he must bring the child immediately to a place designated by the rules of the Family Court for this purpose, unless the person is a physician treating the child and the child is or will be presently admitted to a hospital.
  • She or he must provide the parent or the person legally responsible with written notice, coincident with removal (Family Court Act 1024(b)(iii)).
  • She or he must immediately inform the court and make a report of suspected child abuse or maltreatment pursuant to Title 6 of the Social Services Law, as soon as possible (FCA, Sec. 1024(b)).
  • She or he must immediately notify the appropriate local child protective service, which shall commence a child protective proceeding in the Family Court at the next regular weekday session of the appropriate Family Court or recommend that the child be returned to his or her parents or guardian. In neglect cases, pursuant to Section 1026 of the Family Court Act, the authorized person or entity (usually CPS) may return a child prior to a child protective proceeding if it concludes there is no imminent risk to the child’s health.

Anyone responsible for the care of a child can be the subject of a child protective report, including child care workers at a day care facility, and child maltreatment concerns regarding these professionals should be called directly in to the SCR.  However, sometimes professionals not responsible for the care of a child can inflict harm on that child. Since this would not be an issue for child protective, if you suspect that a professional such as a teacher, counselor or a professional in your institution has physically, sexually or emotionally abused a child, you should call your concerns directly in to law enforcement as soon as possible, in addition to letting your supervisor know about your concerns.

Reporting Situations

Sample cases to demonstrate reporting considerations:

  • You are counseling a parent to resolve anger issues. You are told that Julie, her 10-year-old child, recently stole some articles from the local drug store and your client spanked her, leaving bruises and welts.
  • A female student, 15, has come to you and disclosed that she has been engaging in sexual intercourse with her mother’s 38-year-old boyfriend for the past two months. The boyfriend has resided in the home with the child and her mother for the past five years and is responsible for the care of the child when the mother is at work.
  • A mother delivers a baby that has neonatal drug withdrawal. When talking to the mother, you learn she has not prepared for the baby to come home.
  • Joshua, 7, was brought to the ER by his parents. Upon medical evaluation, he is diagnosed with a life threatening illness requiring an emergency surgical procedure and the likelihood of a blood transfusion. His parents refuse to sign consent forms, claiming that a blood transfusion violates their religious beliefs.
  • A mother you are counseling tells you that when her young children are on weekend visits with their father, he spanks them. She admits that the children are not bruised, but she questions his parenting skills.
  • You learn from counseling 13-year-old Anna that her father is dealing drugs with his children present. At times, he sends Anna to deliver the drugs to his customers and bring the money back.
  • You are making a follow-up home visit. Upon your arrival, you find 12-year-old Rasheem home with five younger siblings, and things are chaotic and out of control. Rasheem has no idea where his mother is or when she will return.

In each of the above cases – try to answer the following questions:

  • What indicators are present?
  • Is there reasonable cause to suspect abuse or maltreatment?
  • Is there a parent or other person responsible for the suspected abuse or maltreatment?
  • What are your next steps?
  • What will you decide?
  • Should this be left to the family?
  • Should the family be given assistance to seek community agency or other resource as appropriate?
  • Is this reportable to the State Central Register (SCR)?
  • Should the police be notified immediately?
Adapted from: Identifying and Reporting Child Abuse and Maltreatment/Neglect: Mandated Reporter Trainer’s Resource Guide. New York State Office of Children and Family Services: CDHS/Research Foundation of SUNY/BSC (2009).
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