Making and Screening Reports of Child Abuse and Neglect - Alabama

Date: November 2021

Individual Responsibility to Report

Citation: Ala. Code § 26-14-3

All mandated reporters are required to immediately make an oral report when they know or suspect that a child is a victim of child abuse or neglect. The oral report shall be followed by a written report.

Content of Reports

Citation: Ala. Code § 26-14-5

The report shall contain the following, if known:

  • The name and location of the child
  • The names and addresses of the child's parents, guardian, or caregivers
  • The nature and extent of the child's injuries
  • Any evidence of previous injuries
  • Any other information that might establish the cause of the child's injuries
  • The identity of the person or persons alleged to be responsible for the child's injuries

Reporting Suspicious Deaths

This issue is not addressed in the statutes reviewed.

Reporting Substance-Exposed Infants

This issue is not addressed in the statutes reviewed.

Agency Receiving the Reports

Citation: Ala. Code §§ 26-14-3; 26-14-1

Reports must be made to a duly constituted authority. A duly constituted authority includes the following:

  • The chief of police of a municipality or municipality and county
  • The sheriff, if the observation of child abuse or neglect is made in an unincorporated territory
  • The Department of Human Resources (DHR)
  • Any person, organization, corporation, group, or agency authorized and designated by DHR to receive reports of child abuse and neglect

Initial Screening Decisions

Citation: Admin. Code r. 660-5-34-.04; 660-5-34-.10

Once a report has been received, it must be investigated; the investigation is known by the department as the child abuse/neglect initial assessment.

The following criteria must be considered at intake when determining which reports will be investigated first:

  • The allegations in the report
  • The seriousness of the incident(s)
  • The child's vulnerability (i.e., capacity for self-protection) and the potential risk of serious harm to the child

At the conclusion of the assessment, a decision regarding a family's need for ongoing protective services shall be made. This decision may be to discontinue DHR services as no protective services are needed, to provide ongoing casework services, to initiate court action, or to make a referral to another agency for services. The decision is to be made with the parents' or primary caregivers' participation to the extent feasible. In any event, the parents or primary caregivers are entitled to an explanation of the action taken and the reasons for the action.

Agency Conducting the Assessment/Investigation

Citation: Ala. Code § 26-14-6.1

The duty and responsibility for the investigation of reports of suspected child abuse or neglect shall be as follows:

  • Reports of suspected child abuse or neglect involving disciplinary or corporal punishment committed in a public or private school or kindergarten shall be investigated by law enforcement agencies.
  • Reports of suspected child abuse or neglect committed in a State-operated child residential facility shall be investigated by law enforcement agencies.
  • All other reports of suspected child abuse and neglect shall be investigated by the department.

Assessment/Investigation Procedures

Citation: Ala. Code § 26-14-7; Admin. Code r. 660-5-34-.04

The department shall promptly make a thorough investigation upon receiving either the oral or written report. The primary purpose of such an investigation shall be the protection of the child. The investigation, to the extent that is reasonably possible, shall include the following:

  • The nature, extent, and cause of the child abuse or neglect
  • The identity of the responsible person
  • The names and conditions of other children in the home
  • An evaluation of the parents or person responsible for the care of the child
  • The home environment and the relationship of the child or children to the parents or other persons responsible for their care
  • All other data deemed pertinent

The investigation may include a visit to the child's home, an interview with the subject child, and may include a physical, psychological, or psychiatric examination of any child or children in that home. If, before the examination is complete, the opinion of the investigators is that immediate removal is necessary to protect a child or children from further abuse or neglect, a court of competent jurisdiction, on petition by the investigators and with good cause being shown, shall issue an order for temporary removal and custody.

The county department shall make a complete written report of the investigation, together with its recommendations.

In regulation: All reports must be cleared through the central registry to determine whether there have been previous reports involving the children, their family members, and all persons allegedly responsible for abuse or neglect.

Timeframes for Completing Investigations

Citation: Admin. Code Ch. R 660-5-34-.04

The department's response time is the timeframe within which in-person initial contact shall be made with the children who are allegedly abused or neglected (i.e., at risk of serious harm) and all other children in the home. The timeframes for completing investigations are the following:

  • Child welfare staff shall respond immediately, i.e., as soon as possible after a report is received, but no later than 12 hours from receipt of the intake information, when the intake information indicates serious harm will likely occur within 24 hours.
  • For situations in which an immediate response is not required, child welfare staff shall respond as quickly as the intake information warrants, but no later than 5 calendar days.
  • Child welfare staff must make contact with all other children who live in the home of the reported child as soon as the intake information warrants, but no later than 15 calendar days.

Classification of Reports

Citation: Admin. Code r. 660-5-34-.07

Upon completion of an assessment of a report, the worker must arrive at a disposition as to whether the child has experienced abuse or neglect and whether the person identified as responsible for the abuse or neglect actually was responsible for the abuse or neglect. The following dispositions are used by the department:

  • Indicated: This disposition is used when a preponderance of the credible evidence and the professional judgment of the worker indicate that abuse or neglect has occurred.
  • Unable to Complete: This disposition is used only when an assessment cannot be completed due to the worker being unable to secure the information needed to reach a disposition (e.g., family moves and their present whereabouts are unknown; a family that is reported can never be located due to lack of identifying information).
  • Not Indicated: This disposition is used when a preponderance of the credible evidence and professional judgment does not substantiate that abuse or neglect has occurred.