Reporting

How are you likely to find out about a child who is being abused?

In some instances the child will disclose the abuse to you. However, this is not always common as children are often threatened not to tell or may not even realize that what is occurring is abusive. Children may be too young, fearful, embarrassed, ashamed or naïve to report the occurrence of abuse. Research has found that in sexual abuse cases, only 25% of children are likely to disclose. Disclosure may be made by the child’s peer, a relative or concerned person. Children rarely lie about abuse or neglect once it comes out. However, later they may deny or change their story to avoid embarrassment, escape punishment, or avoid disapproval at home.

Mandated Reporting of Child Abuse

F. S. § 415.504 provides for a central abuse registry and tracking system which handles all reports of abuse. Further, the statute outlines a number of professionals who are mandated reporters.

Who must report abuse?

In Florida, there are over 40 professionals who are identified as mandated reporters.
They are professionals who are likely to come in contact with children. Teahers, school professionals, nurses, doctors, and mental health professionals are among those required to report.

Who makes reports?

Although many mandated reporters and others make reports, those in  educational settings tend to make the most reports to child protective services.

When to Report Child Abuse

Florida Statute § 415.502 reads: Anyone “who knows, or has reasonable cause to suspect, that a child is an abused or neglected child, shall report such knowledge or suspicion.”
Thus, you report when you have a suspicion. You do not need proof. You must report when you have reasonable cause to believe that a child or adolescent has been abused or neglected or is in danger of being abused.

In Florida, the reporting requirement is not limited to the first person reporting In other words, you cannot assume that the report has already been made. You must always make a report if you suspect that a child is or has been abused.

Teachers and Reporting

Teachers and other school personnel are in a unique position to observe abuse. They are in contact with many children on a daily basis and can be alert to changes in the child’s behavior or mood. Teachers make many reports of child abuse, but also fail to report at times despite their role as mandated reporters.

Obstacles to Reporting

Sometimes mandated reporters want to make a report of abuse but are unsure of doing so. They have conflicting feelings and beliefs about the reporting process. This section will review some of the commonly reported obstacles to reporting.

Personal Feelings

One obstacle to reporting is personal feelings. Some people feel as though they do not want to "get involved" in other people's lives. However, by virtue of your status as a mandated reporter of child abuse, you are involved. In your profession, you will work with children every day and become involved in their lives. One of your roles as an educator is a child advocate and protector.
Other people may wonder, 'what if the parent becomes mad at me?' It is possible that parents will become angry when they find out a report has been made. This is why sensitive handling of the report by the school personnel is important. Many school districts encourage teachers to refer angry parents to the school counselor, who may be better trained in handling the parents' emotions. After the initial report is made, a parent may come to view the school as an ally during this time rather than an enemy. Some teachers feel as though they have no right to tell parents how to handle their children. However, if such treatment is illegal, as are abuse and neglect in this country, teachers do have a right and an obligation to report such actions.

Obstacles to Reporting: Other School Personnel

Sometimes teachers feel a lack of support from administrators when faced with child abuse reporting. When administrators fail to make a report or encourage a teacher not to report suspected abuse, their behavior is obstructive, troublesome, and illegal. Principals may fail to provide training to staff or not have clear policies in place. Administrators' behavior can be very confusing for the teacher because, if a teacher fails to report abuse, even under the suggestion of her superior, she will still be held liable for the unreported abuse. Thus, the teacher is vulnerable to legal sanctions or must bypass the administrator's authority.

Obstacles to Reporting: Prior Negative Experiences

If an educator has had a previous bad experience with abuse reporting, he or she may not want to get involved again. Concerns that child protective services do not always handle cases in the best manner may be valid, but a previous bad experience does not mean the next time will not go better. Regardless of previous experience, educators must still report their concerns or suspicions of abuse. Remember that while reporting does not ensure that a situation will improve, failing to report guarantees that the child will continue to be at risk for abuse.

Obstacles to Reporting: Nothing Happens

Sometimes potential reporters believe that they need not bother to report because "nothing is going to happen anyway." Aside from the legal considerations, this reasoning is faulty. If a report is made, action does take place. Child protective services must investigate every report of abuse. If a report is not made, nothing is done. Identification of abused and neglected children is the necessary first step in the process.

Often teachers do not get any information about the case after they make their report. This is due to the confidentiality laws and policies regarding this information. Teachers should not take this as a sign that nothing is being done. In some jurisdictions, teachers can request, at the time that they make the report, to be kept informed about the progress of the case.

The information contained in the four "Obstacles" pages has been adapted from "The Role of Educators in the Prevention and Treatment of Child Abuse and Neglect." U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 1992.

How to Report Child Abuse in Florida

In the state of Florida, you can report abuse via phone or fax. The phone number to call is 1-800-96-ABUSE. It is a toll free call and the hotline is open all the time.

The fax number is 1-800-914-0004. It is available 24 hours a day. Include a cover letter, the concerns you have about abuse or neglect, and demographic information on the victim, including a means to locate him or her.

When Making A Report….

  • Describe the situation clearly and include all the information that you have (e.g. names, date of birth, address, etc.).
  • Share any knowledge of previous incidents including the nature and extent.
  • Include all reactions of the child.
  • Be sure to communicate any sense of urgency you observe.
  • You must give your name, but it will remain confidential.

But I don't want to give my name!

Providing your name to the phone operator is proof that you made a report and followed your legal obligation. Providing your name when making a report can protect you in the future
Also, the family is not given the name of the reporter; this information is held confidential.

Emergencies

In emergency situations, call your local law enforcement agency at the end of the day if the Division of Child and Family Services has not responded to your report. If you are concerned that a child will undergo harm if sent home that day, you cannot let the child go home. Call the local police.

Good Faith

Any individual who makes a report in good faith is immune from criminal or civil liability. This has been challenged and upheld in the Florida courts. Immunity provides a reporter protection from being sued for any damages that may arise from making a report (only if you follow the statute). Thus, where failure to report is a criminal offense, inaccurate reports are not revengeful.

Penalties for Failure to Report

  • Failure to report child abuse and neglect when you are a mandated reporter is a misdemeanor and in most states, carries a fine. These fines can range from $25 to $5,000.
  • In Florida, failure to report child abuse and neglect can result in up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine.
  • Thus, if it is later determined that you knew about abuse and failed to report it, you are facing these penalties.

False Report

False report means a report of abuse or neglect made to the central abuse hotline, which is made maliciously for the purpose of harassing, embarrassing or harming another person; financial gain for the reporting person; acquiring custody of a child; or personal benefit for the reporting person in any private dispute involving the child. The term false report does not include a report made in good faith. (F. S. § 39.01)

If you make a false report of abuse in Florida, you face up to 5 years in jail and a $5,000 fine.
A false report is when you knowingly make a report in the absence of suspicion.

Burden of Proof

A report of abuse is only a request for an investigation. The person making the report does not need to prove the abuse. Investigation and validation of child abuse reports are the responsibilities of child protection workers.

Do you report even if you think it has been reported? YES!

In Florida, the reporting requirement is not limited to the first person reporting. You can’t assume the report has been made.  

Criteria for Acceptance of a Report

  • Child is under age 18
  • Allegations if true must meet definition of abuse or neglect in F. S. §39.01
  • Reasonable cause to suspect the harm (or the threat of) was caused by abuse or neglect
  • Alleged abuser must be a parent, adult household member, or other person responsible for the child’s welfare

What happens to the report…

An initial investigation will be made in 24 hours or less. There are several possible outcomes:

  • Abuse or neglect is ruled out, or
  • Uncertain findings (inconclusive), or
  • The abuse or neglect is confirmed

Reporting Tips Gather Essential Facts:

  • Child's name and contact information
  • Suspected abuse
  • Reason for suspicion (as detailed as possible)
  • Details (including quotes of child's disclosure)
  • Suspected perpetrator's name and contact information
  • Information regarding parents

Call child protective services at 1-800-96-ABUSE if suspected perpetrator is a parent or caregiver.

Call Police or Sheriff's Department locally if suspected perpetrator is not a caregiver or parent.

(Gorton, C. & Cruise, T. (2001). Child Abuse and Neglect: The School's Response. Guilford Press, New York)

The State’s Services

The goal of reporting is to get parents and children the help that they need. The state has funds which provide for in-home services such as counseling or parent training, family preservation services aimed at keeping families together, and foster care, whose goal is to provide children a safe environment free from abuse and harm.

You are a mandated reporter...

Remember your watchfulness can help prevent years of suffering. A report of suspected abuse is a responsible attempt to protect a child.

Teach Parents...

photo of parent hugging child
Be a hugger, not a slugger!