If you work regularly with young people, you are likely well-versed in the best practices of Safe Sanctuaries. But even veteran youth workers can feel uncomfortable and uncertain about what exact steps they need to take when they witness or receive a report of child abuse/neglect. Let’s break down the reporting process, to make it less daunting.
- Know who to call
Every state has a slightly different process for reporting. Well before you ever have to make a call, you should know the website and phone numbers for your state. To get started, visit the Child Welfare Information Gateway.
- Know who should make the call
Anyone with reasonable suspicion may call. Those who are designated as Mandatory Reports are required to call. Regardless, the one who actually makes the report should be the one who has reason to suspect abuse/neglect. This may mean you witnessed something yourself, or that a child or youth has told you about their experience.
- Know why to call
If you have a reasonable suspicion of abuse/neglect, or if a child/youth reports they are being abused or neglected, you should report to Social Services. Abuse and neglect can be physical, sexual, or emotional. State definitions vary, and can be found at the Child Welfare Information Gateway.
- Know how quickly to call
Reporting suspected abuse/neglect should be done in a timely manner. States vary on what that means, but it is often within 1 day. If you suspect a child/youth is in imminent danger, and is at risk of death or serious harm, you should call local emergency services (911), who are equipped to respond faster than Social Services.
- Know what to report
Your job is not to investigate the details of what may or may not have happened. But when you call to report abuse/neglect, you will be asked a lot of questions. First they will want your name and contact information. This information is confidential, but important if they determine they need to get in touch with you later for more information. Then they will want to know about your specific concern. They will ask for the victim’s name, age, and address. They will want to know the name of the abuser, and their relationship to the child/youth. They will ask about what you witnessed or what was reported to you, and if you have any additional information. It is okay to answer a question, “I don’t know.”
Depending on your local laws, you may or may not have a right to know any further follow up information on how your report is processed. You should refer to your own congregation’s policy on whether there is further reporting to be done to your church’s staff.