Step 3: Understanding Child Abuse Laws

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Professionals who work with children and families, including teachers, doctors, nurses, and social workers are required by law to report suspected neglect or abuse. Some states require that every citizen who suspects a child is being abused or neglected to report it. All states have laws that protect the reporter of suspected abuse from legal liability, as long as the report was made "in good faith" and not maliciously. All you need to report is "reasonable suspicion" based on what you have witnessed firsthand or heard between a parent and child.

The state or county agency that provides Child Protective Services (CPS) has the legal authority to investigate and evaluate the facts. Most states complete a safety assessment to determine whether children can be safe or conditionally safe in their home.

Once you make a report, Child Protective Services agencies are not free to give you any information about the case. They will, however, be able to say whether a case has been substantiated or not. Substantiation means that there is enough evidence to justify an investigation and case plan. If a case is found to be unsubstantiated, it simply means that there is not enough information about the allegation or the identity of the family, or that the state law contained narrow criteria for substantiating a case. Criteria for substantiation vary from state to state because definitions of child abuse and neglect vary from state to state.

If you are unsure of the legal definitions of abuse or neglect in your community, contact your local Child Protective Services agency for information.

You’ve done the right thing and helped save a child from cruelty and abuse. Now, learn how to prevent further child abuse.

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