In the United States, mandated reporters are individuals who are obligated by law to report suspected cases of child abuse and neglect. In general, any person who has contact with children in a professional capacity is a mandated reporter, although laws vary from state to state. Mandated reporter laws are designed to catch child abuse in its early stages, so that children do not suffer long term damage.
Any individual can make a report of suspected child abuse to the state, which will dispatch Child Protective Services to investigate the claim. Mandated reporters must file more extensive paperwork when reporting suspected abuse, and cannot be anonymous. Most states dictate that teachers, medical professionals, peace officers, firemen, psychologists, counselors, clergy, film processors, and probation officers are mandated reporters. Other professions may be listed as mandated reporters on a state by state basis. Volunteers are exempt from mandated reporter laws in many states, although they may feel a moral obligation to report suspected cases of child abuse.
Child abuse includes physical, sexual, and emotional abuse along with neglect. Physical abuse is defined as a non-accidental injury. Neglect is a circumstance in which a child is not being adequately cared for, posing a potential threat to his or her health and well being. Sexual abuse is sexual activity between children and older children or adults. Emotional abuse includes emotional maltreatment of a child. All of these types of abuse are harmful physically and emotionally, especially if they take place over prolonged periods of time.
Mandated reporters who suspect that any type of abuse is occurring must report it to the state. Suspicious signs include bruises, lacerations, physical or emotional trauma, emotional unpredictability, and evidence of improper care. If a child discloses an abusive situation to mandated reporters, they should report the disclosure. Most states offer immunity for good faith reporting, meaning that individuals cannot be prosecuted if an investigation does not confirm child abuse. Most states also have laws about false reporting, although they are rarely prosecuted.
If an individual is a mandated reporter and has reason to believe that a child he or she has contact with is being abused, an oral report must be filed as quickly as possible. In most instances, a written report with complete information must follow within 48 hours. Using the information in these reports, Child Protective Services in the state will investigate the claim and make a decision in the case which may include taking protective custody of the child involved.
Mandated reporters are part of a larger system designed to protect and take care of children. Laws about mandated reporters vary around the world, with some nations having few laws to protect children from abuse. With efforts from the United Nations, more and more countries are instituting mandated reporter laws.