Making and Screening Reports of Child Abuse and Neglect - California

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Individual Responsibility to Report

Citation: Penal Code § 11166

A mandated reporter who knows or reasonably suspects that a child has been a victim of abuse or neglect shall make an initial report immediately by telephone and prepare and send, fax, or electronically transmit a follow-up written report within 36 hours.

Any commercial film, photographic print processor, or computer technician who has knowledge of or observes any film, photograph, videotape, negative, slide, data, image, video laser disc, computer hardware or software, computer floppy disk, data storage medium, CD-ROM, computer, or computer-generated image depicting a child under age 16 engaged in an act of sexual conduct shall report the instance of suspected child abuse to the law enforcement agency immediately, or as soon as practicably possible, by telephone and shall prepare and send, fax, or electronically submit a written report of it with a copy of the film, photograph, videotape, negative, slide, or image attached within 36 hours.

A county probation or welfare department shall immediately, and in no case in more than 24 hours, report to the law enforcement agency having jurisdiction over the case after receiving information that a child or youth who is receiving child welfare services has been identified as the victim of commercial sexual exploitation, as defined in § 11165.1(d).

When a child or youth who is receiving child welfare services and who is reasonably believed to be the victim of, or is at risk of being the victim of, commercial sexual exploitation, is missing, or has been abducted, the county probation or welfare department shall immediately, or in no case later than 24 hours from receipt of the information, report the incident to the appropriate law enforcement authority for entry into the National Crime Information Center database of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

Content of Reports

Citation: Penal Code § 11167(a)

Reports of suspected child abuse or neglect shall include the following:

  • The name, business address, and telephone number of the mandated reporter
  • The capacity that makes the person a mandated reporter
  • The information that gave rise to the reasonable suspicion of child abuse or neglect and the source or sources of that information

If a report is made, the following information, if known, also shall be included in the report:

  • The child's name, address, present location, and, if applicable, school, grade, and class
  • The names, addresses, and telephone numbers of the child's parents or guardians
  • The name, address, telephone number, and other relevant personal information about the person or persons who might have abused or neglected the child

The mandated reporter shall make a report even if some of this information is not known or is uncertain to him or her.

Reporting Suspicious Deaths

Citation: Penal Code §§ 11166; 11166.1

The agency shall be notified and a report prepared and sent, faxed, or electronically submitted even if the child has died, regardless of whether or not the possible abuse was a contributing factor to the death and even if suspected child abuse was discovered during an autopsy.

The agency shall notify within 24 hours the licensing office that has jurisdiction over a facility when a child has died while living at or enrolled in that facility unless the circumstances of the child's death are clearly unrelated to the child's care at the facility.

Reporting Substance-Exposed Infants

Citation: Penal Code § 11165.13

A positive toxicology screen at the time of the delivery of an infant is not in and of itself a sufficient basis for reporting child abuse or neglect. However, any indication of maternal substance abuse shall lead to an assessment of the needs of the mother and child pursuant to § 123605 of the Health and Safety Code. If other factors are present that indicate risk to a child, then a report shall be made.

A report based on risk to a child that relates solely to the inability of the parent to provide the child with regular care due to the parent's substance abuse shall be made only to a county welfare or probation department and not to a law enforcement agency.

Agency Receiving the Reports

Citation: Penal Code § 11165.9

Reports of suspected child abuse or neglect shall be made by mandated reporters, or in the case of reports of a child suffering from severe emotional damage (pursuant to § 11166.05), may be made to any police department or sheriff's department, not including a school district police or security department; county probation department, if designated by the county to receive mandated reports; or the county welfare department. Any of those agencies shall accept a report of suspected child abuse or neglect whether offered by a mandated reporter or another person or referred by another agency, even if the agency to whom the report is being made lacks subject matter or geographical jurisdiction to investigate the reported case, unless the agency can immediately electronically transfer the call to an agency with proper jurisdiction.

When an agency takes a report about a case of suspected child abuse or neglect in which that agency lacks jurisdiction, the agency shall immediately refer the case by telephone, fax, or electronic transmission to an agency with proper jurisdiction. Agencies that are required to receive reports of suspected child abuse or neglect may not refuse to accept a report of suspected child abuse or neglect from a mandated reporter or another person unless otherwise authorized pursuant to this section and shall maintain a record of all reports received.

Initial Screening Decisions

Citation: Welf. & Inst. Code § 16504; DSS Manual Ch. 31, §§ 105; 120

An immediate in-person response shall be made by a county welfare department social worker in emergency situations. An in-person response is not required when the county welfare department, based upon an evaluation of risk, determines that an in-person response is not appropriate.

In policy: The decision whether an in-person investigation is needed shall include the following:

  • The social worker has been able to locate the child and/or the family.
  • There exists an open case and the problem is being adequately addressed.
  • The allegation meets the legal definition of abuse, neglect, or exploitation.
  • The caregiver of the child is the alleged perpetrator or was negligent in allowing, or unable to prevent, access to the child.
  • The allegation includes specific acts and/or behavioral indicators that are suggestive of abuse, neglect, or exploitation.
  • There is additional information from collateral contacts or records review that invalidates the reported allegation.
  • There are previously investigated unsubstantiated or unfounded reports from the same reporter with no new allegations or risk factors.

The decision whether an in-person investigation is required include the following options:

  • Evaluate out, with no referral to another community agency
  • Evaluate out, with a referral to an appropriate community agency
  • Evaluate out with a referral to the Indian child's Tribe, an Indian organization, or other Indian service provider, if available, when there is reason to know that a child is or may be an Indian child
  • Accept for in-person investigation

If the referral involves an Indian child, the social worker shall contact the designated representative of the child's Tribe so that active efforts to prevent the breakup of the Indian family can be commenced and coordinated with the Tribe.

Agency Conducting the Assessment/Investigation

Citation: Welf. & Inst. Code § 16504

Any child reported to the county welfare department as endangered by abuse, neglect, or exploitation shall be eligible for initial intake and evaluation of risk services. Each county welfare department shall maintain and operate a 24-hour response system.

Assessment/Investigation Procedures

Citation: Penal Code § 11167; DSS Manual Ch. 31, § 125

At the time of the initial contact with the individual who is subject to the investigation, the agency shall advise the individual of the complaints or allegations against him or her in a manner that is consistent with laws protecting the identity of the reporter.

In policy: The social worker initially investigating a referral shall determine the potential for or the existence of any conditions that place the child or any other child in the household at risk and in need of services. The social worker shall have in-person contact with all the children alleged to be abused, neglected, or exploited and at least one adult who has information regarding the allegations.

If, as a result of the investigation, the social worker does not find the referral to be unfounded, he or she shall do the following:

  • Conduct an in-person investigation with the following:
    • All children present at the time of the initial in-person investigation
    • All parents who have access to the children alleged to be at risk of abuse, neglect, or exploitation
  • Make necessary collateral contacts with persons having knowledge of the condition of the children, including Tribes, Indian organizations, or other Indian service providers when the child is or may be Indian

A noncustodial parent shall be considered to have access if he or she has regular or frequent in-person contact with the children.

In all cases, the social workers shall inquire with the child, if the child is old enough; the child's parent(s); legal guardian(s); or Indian custodian whether the child is or may be an Indian child and complete and file with the court the Indian Child Inquiry Attachment form. Additionally, the social worker must provide the Parental Notification of Indian Status to the parent, Indian custodian, or guardian for completion and file it with the court. Social workers have an affirmative and continuing duty to inquire about a child's Indian status.

Timeframes for Completing Investigations

Citation: DSS Manual Ch. 31, §§ 110, 115

If the social worker determines that an in-person investigation is necessary, he or she shall initiate the investigation immediately or within 10 calendar days, as appropriate. An immediate investigation is required when the following apply:

  • The emergency response protocol indicates the existence of a situation in which imminent danger to a child, such as physical pain, injury, disability, severe emotional harm, or death, is likely.
  • The law enforcement agency making the referral states that the child is at immediate risk of abuse, neglect, or exploitation.
  • The social worker determines that the child referred by the law enforcement agency is at immediate risk of abuse, neglect, or exploitation.

Classification of Reports

Citation: Penal Code § 11165.12

Reports may be classified as follows:

  • A report is unfounded when it is determined by the investigator who conducted the investigation to be false, to be inherently improbable, to involve an accidental injury, or not to constitute child abuse or neglect.
  • A report is substantiated when it is determined by the investigator who conducted the investigation to constitute child abuse or neglect, as defined in § 11165.6, based upon evidence that makes it more likely than not that child abuse or neglect occurred. A substantiated report shall not include a report where the investigator who conducted the investigation found the report to be false, inherently improbable, to involve an accidental injury, or to not constitute child abuse or neglect.
  • A report is inconclusive when it is determined by the investigator who conducted the investigation not to be unfounded, but the findings are inconclusive and there is insufficient evidence to determine whether child abuse or neglect has occurred.