If I report, will this toddler get removed from their home?


Dear Stop It Now!,

I have suspicions of an older child sexually abusing a toddler. What actions will the police/cps take after I report? Are the parents of the toddler at risk of their child being taken from them?

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Dear Concerned Parent,

Many parents reach out to us with similar questions about what the following processes may be after they contact either Child Protective Services (CPS) or the police. Please know that every circumstance is a bit different, but we can offer an outline as to what you might be able to expect. In this email we will talk about the process after a call goes into CPS, and about potentially checking in with both of these families. Deciding to report can be a difficult decision to make. For more information you may want to take a look at our resource guide about Reporting.

For this instance please make a report directly to CPS. They are more equipped than local police to handle cases of suspected child to child sexual abuse, and if appropriate, they will let you know if  you should call the police. When you call, the hotline worker will ask for identifying information about the child who was harmed, and the child who was sexually harmful. This information includes first and last names, birth dates, addresses, names of the parents of these children, and contact information for the parents/guardians of these children. They will also ask for a summary of what happened. You will want to provide only factual information, things you speciifcally have observed or overheard. It may be difficult to leave out opinions, but try to respond directly to the questions they ask without giving too much of your own assessment. 

Once this information is given to the state hotline worker, they enter this information and it gets sent to the investigative team supervisor. They read through all that is in the hotline worker’s report and decide whether to investigate, or to take what was shared as information. Anything that gets reported to CPS is kept on file for a certain length of time, regardless of whether CPS investigates or opens a case. If they keep it as information, nothing will happen other than the information retained on file. This can still be helpful, because if another report ever gets made in the future, there will be record of what has been previously reported. 

If an investigation is opened, a caseworker will reach out to the involved adults connected to each of these children. During this stage their goal is to assess for safety on multiple levels. They will ask questions about the incident, and they will also be mindful to notice other factors which may be present in either child’s home life which may negatively impact child safety. These folks are expert in talking with kids, and typically are not looking to find quick answers and people to blame. Rather, they want to find out what is working well in a family, and where there may be risks - or even abusive situations. From there, they will either close the investigation or they will decide to open up a case with one or both of these families. 

When this happens, caregivers will be assigned a case worker and will be given a case plan. This case plan can encompass supports for any and all people in the family. Some examples of case plan supports would be getting a child involved in play therapy, an adult taking part in a twelve-step program, or even taking actionable steps to move to a safer apartment by a certain date. 

CPS’s goal is to always try to keep children with their parents and to help the family manage any risks. Since CPS workers are always assessing for child safety, there is a chance however that a child may be moved to a safer home environment: either to the care of a relative, a trusted involved adult, or to a foster family. Some examples when this might happen include a high degree of parental neglect, apparent drug/alcohol abuse, or living in a condemned building. If none of these issues apply to the family of this toddler, then there is a high likelihood that their child will remain in their care. Minors can also be placed in a different home if a parent refuses to take part in their case plan. This is because case plans are created to help parents offer more safety to children, so if a parent doesn’t follow a case plan they are not working towards creating a safer home environment. 

I’m also wondering if the parents of both of these children know that you’re worried about this? It may be supportive to both of these families if you voice your concerns to them, too. Though it can be difficult to speak up, perhaps think about sharing your concerns with the parents of this toddler. If you’ve noticed some Warning Signs in Children of Possible Sexual Abuse or Harm in their child, think about bringing this tip sheet along so you can be specific. Showing them this tip sheet means that they can see if any concerns they might have had are also listed. 

And, though I’m not sure how you know this older child, think about reaching out to their parents if it feels possible. Is there something specific in the way this child acts that has made you worried? You may want to see if any of your concerns are also listed on this tip sheet all about Signs a Child is At-Risk to Harm Another Child. If you are able to talk with this older child’s parents then our tip sheet, Talking to Parents About Their Child’s Behaviors may be helpful to you. 

After talking with either or both of these families they both may decide to report their concerns, as well as what you’ve shared. And, that’s perfectly okay. Any worried adult can report concerns at any time. Only a suspicion of harm or abuse, not proof, is needed to make a report. And sometimes it can be protective for parents of children to report their concerns to CPS, as well as any actions steps they are intending to take. 

These children are so lucky that you’re in their lives, noticing concerns and seeking more information before taking action. I hope that you also have your own supports, as this can be stressful. Think about finding someone you can turn to with any heavy feelings that might be coming up---a friend, partner, relative, faith leader, or even your own professional can be such a help at a time like this. 

Take care,
Stop It Now!


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Last edited on: June 19th, 2020