"What’s my responsibility as a mandated reporter?"
Professionals who work with families and children are, in most states, legally required to report suspected cases of child abuse to the authorities. If you have any questions about whether or not you are a mandated reporter in your state, please consult with your supervisor or the statutes for mandated reporting in your state. You can review the statutes at the Child Welfare Information Gateway.
Some statutes require a mandated reporter to file if there is "reasonable cause to believe" or a "reasonable suspicion." Other statutes require the reporter to "know or suspect," and may require the knowledge of identifying information for both the victim and the alleged person abusing.
A mandated reporter who acts in good faith and in the best interest of the child has immunity from any civil or criminal liability when making a report. Although from time to time family members have voiced complaints or claims that reports are false, successful suits in the area hardly ever occur. Conversely failure to report, or deliberately withholding a report could result in legal consequences for the mandated reporter.
Although the reports themselves are confidential, the outcomes of a given investigation are usually made available to the mandated reporter who filed.
The hardship of filing
If you are a mandated reporter facing the decision to file a report of suspected or evident child sexual abuse, this can be a complicated decision for you and the relationship you have to this family. Some professionals choose to inform certain safe family members that they intend to file a report. Other professional choose to consult with colleagues or supervisors for validation and support before contacting authorities.
There may be circumstances where a professional may not feel that there is immediate risk and may wait for the “right time” to make a report so that a family can be prepared and access help for the best possible outcome. But remember that reporting only to a parent, guardian or relative will not satisfy a mandated reporter's legal duty under the statutes.
Although it can sometimes feel like an “intrusion” into the private life of a family, reports made by professionals can lend credibility to a claim made by another non-professional or caregiver.
Ultimately your step to notify child protective services or police can be the most effective way to assure a family gets access to the resources they need to protect a child, even if the resulting investigation creates a period of disruption for the child and his or her family.