What happens during an investigation?


Dear Stop It Now!,

I suspect that my niece is being abused by another member of our family. I am planning on filing a report but I want to know first what could happen if there is an investigation.*

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Dear Concerned Aunt,

When there is suspicion that a child is being abused by a family member, a report should be filed with your state’s child protective services.  The purpose of child protective services is to determine if a child has been abused or neglected. When you make a report of suspected child abuse to your local child protection agency, you may want to have notes prepared with the reasons why you are calling them. Identify the behaviors, the adults involved, and anything that was heard or seen that leads you to believe that a child has been harmed.

Not all reports result in investigations. Sometimes there isn’t enough evidence from the point of view of child protective services to trigger a report. Or sometimes the reasons for the report are not viewed as warranting an investigation. If that happens and additional concerns are raised because new behaviors or disclosure come up, you can call and file a new report.

When an investigation does result, the first concern of child protective services is the immediate safety of the child.  In situations where the home is identified as unsafe for children, CPS’s strong preference is to remove the abuser. CPS removes children from the home only as a last resort after all other options have been considered or explored.

The team of professionals involved in investigations can include a protective services worker, a doctor, a therapist or social worker and law enforcement officials.  Interviews may be held with the child, a non-offending parent, and the person suspected of sexually abusing the child.  Sometimes interviews are also held with the child’s brothers and sisters, and anyone else who may have knowledge about possible harm to the child, such as neighbors, teachers, child care providers and others.

As part of the investigation, the child is sometimes given a physical exam for the purpose of collecting evidence and/or attending to medical needs.  Child advocacy centers can help children and their families by offering trained professionals skilled in interviewing children and by offering support to all. If you visit their website, you can locate local centers through a link on the top of the page.

Please also visit our Online Help Center for more information on filing reports.  The Child Welfare Information Gateway also offers information regarding investigations.

We know that reporting suspected abuse can be a very complicated decision for a family member. Children need adults to speak up when there is a chance that they are being abused. Adults can protect children when they act. 

Take care,
Stop It Now!

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Last edited on: January 8th, 2019