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What Does a Mandated Reporter Have to Report?


4 min read

What Does a Mandated Reporter Have to Report?

What Does a Mandated Reporter Have to Report?

What Does a Mandated Reporter Have to Report?

Mandated reporters, such as teachers, medical professionals, and law enforcement officers, are often close to children and, thus, are in a unique position to identify and report signs of suspected abuse and neglect.

If you’re a mandated reporter, you may be wondering:

What Does A Mandated Reporter Have To Report?

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While each state has its guidelines, Federal legislation lays the groundwork for laws on child maltreatment by identifying a minimum set of actions or behaviors that define child abuse and neglect.

Federal Child Abuse Definitions

The Federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA), as amended and reauthorized by the CAPTA Reauthorization Act of 2010, defines child abuse and neglect as, at a minimum:

“any recent act or failure to act on the part of a parent or caretaker which results in death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse or exploitation (including sexual abuse as determined under section 111), or an act or failure to act which presents an imminent risk of serious harm."

Additionally, federal law stipulates that “a child shall be considered a victim of ‘child abuse and neglect’ and ‘sexual abuse’ if the child is identified, by a state or local agency employee of the state or locality involved of being a victim of sex trafficking.

What Are the Major Types of Child Abuse and Neglect?

Most states recognize four major types of maltreatment: physical abuse, neglect, sexual abuse, and emotional abuse. Additionally, many states identify abandonment, parental substance use, and human trafficking as abuse or neglect.

Physical Abuse

Physical abuse is a nonaccidental bodily injury to a child caused by a parent, caregiver, or another person responsible for a child. Injuries from physical abuse could range from minor bruises to severe fractures or death. Physical abuse can include:

  • punching
  • beating
  • kicking
  • biting
  • shaking
  • throwing
  • stabbing
  • choking
  • hitting (with hand or other object)
  • burning
  • otherwise causing physical harm

Discipline vs. Abuse

Physical discipline actions, such as spanking, are not considered abuse as long as the discipline is reasonable and causes no bodily injury to the child. Learn more about the differences between corporal punishment vs. physical abuse.


Neglect is the failure of a parent or other caregiver to provide for a child’s basic needs. Neglect typically includes the following categories:

Physical: failure to provide necessary food, shelter, supervision, or allowing them access to dangerous substances/objects.

Medical: failure to provide necessary medical or mental health treatment or withholding medically indicated treatment from a child with life-threatening conditions.

Educational: failure to educate/provide education for a child or tend to special education needs.

Emotional: inattention to a child’s emotional needs, failure to provide psychological care, isolating them from friends/family.

Many states also consider abandonment as a form of neglect. In general, a child is considered abandoned when

  • the parent’s identity or whereabouts are unknown
  • the child has been left alone in circumstances where the child could or has suffered serious harm
  • the child has been deserted with no regard for their health or safety
  • the parent has failed to maintain contact with the child or provide reasonable support for a specified time

Exceptions to Neglect

Living in poverty is not considered child abuse or neglect; however, if a family’s failure to use available resources puts the child’s health or safety at risk, child welfare intervention could be required.

Many states provide an exception to the definition of medical neglect for parents who choose not to seek medical care for their children due to religious beliefs.

Sexual Abuse

CAPTA defines sexual abuse as “the employment, use, persuasion, inducement, enticement, or coercion of any child to engage in, or assist any other person to engage in, any sexually explicit conduct or simulation of such conduct for the purpose of producing a visual depiction of such conduct; or the rape, and in cases of a caretaker or interfamilial relationships, statutory rape, molestation, prostitution, or another form of sexual exploitation of children, or incest with children.”

Human Trafficking

Human trafficking is considered a form of modern slavery and includes both sex trafficking and labor trafficking. Sex trafficking is recruiting, harboring, transporting, providing, or obtaining someone for a commercial sex act, such as prostitution, pornography, or stripping.

Labor trafficking is forced labor, including drug dealing, begging, or working long hours for little pay. Human trafficking includes victims of any sex, age, race/ ethnicity, or socioeconomic status; however, children involved in child welfare, including children in out-of-home care, are especially vulnerable.

Emotional Abuse

Emotional or psychological abuse is behavior that impairs a child’s emotional development or sense of self-worth. Examples may include constant criticism, threats, rejection, or withholding love, support, or guidance.

Emotional abuse is often difficult to prove, and, as a result, child protective services may not be able to intervene without evidence of harm or mental injury to the child.

Parental Substance Use

Many states include parental substance use in their definition of child abuse or neglect and related circumstances, such as:

  • exposing a child to harm prenatally (mother’s use of substances or illegal drugs)
  • manufacturing synthetic drugs in the presence of a child
  • selling, distributing, or giving illicit drugs or alcohol to a child
  • caregiver use of a controlled substance that impairs the ability to care for a child adequately

Mandated Reporters Can Save a Life

Understanding the definitions of child abuse and neglect and what a mandated reporter needs to report isn’t easy. But mandated reporters have a special duty and unique opportunity to see the signs of child abuse or neglect early and to take action. Knowing what does a mandated reporter need to report could save a child’s life. Find more information about your reporting guidelines and get more details about state-specific training at

Recognize the signs of abuse.