Making and Screening Reports of Child Abuse and Neglect - Montana

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Individual Responsibility to Report

Citation: Ann. Code § 41-3-201

When a mandated reporter knows or has reasonable cause to suspect as a result of information they receive in their professional or official capacity that a child is abused or neglected, he or she shall promptly make a report to the Department of Public Health and Human Services.

Content of Reports

Citation: Ann. Code § 41-3-201

The report must contain the following:

  • The names and addresses of the child and the child's parents or other persons responsible for the child's care
  • To the extent known, the nature and extent of the child's injuries, including any evidence of prior injuries
  • Any other information that the reporter believes might be helpful in establishing the cause of the injuries or showing the willful neglect and the identity of the person or persons responsible for the injury or neglect
  • The facts that led the reporter to believe that the child suffered injury or willful neglect

Reporting Suspicious Deaths

Citation: Ann. Code § 41-3-206

A mandated reporter who has reasonable cause to suspect that a child has died as a result of abuse or neglect shall report that suspicion to the appropriate medical examiner or law enforcement officer.

The medical examiner or coroner shall investigate the report and submit findings, in writing, to the local law enforcement agency, the appropriate county attorney, the local child protective service, the family of the deceased child, and, if the person making the report is a physician, the physician.

Reporting Substance-Exposed Infants

Citation: Ann. Code § 41-3-201(3)

A physician or other health-care professional involved in the delivery or care of an infant shall report to the department any infant known to the professional to be affected by a dangerous drug, as defined in § 50-32-101.

Agency Receiving the Reports

Citation: Admin. Rules R. 37.47.302

The department shall establish a centralized intake (CI) bureau. The CI bureau is responsible for the operation of the statewide centralized intake system that receives and screens all reports of suspected child abuse, neglect, or abandonment statewide from both mandatory and discretionary reporters 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. All reports of child abuse or neglect must be made through the child abuse hotline. If a person calls, visits, or writes a department office other than the child abuse hotline to report child abuse or neglect, that department office shall refer the person or written communication to the hotline.

Initial Screening Decisions

Citation: Ann. Code § 41-3-202; Admin. Rules R. 37.47.303

Upon receipt of a report that a child is or has been abused or neglected, the department shall promptly assess the information contained in the report and determine the level of response required and the timeframe within which action must be initiated.

In regulation: When the child abuse hotline receives an incoming communication, the intake specialist will use standardized questions to screen the communication and determine:

  • The type of child abuse or neglect alleged
  • The level of response required
  • How the report will be classified

When the incoming communication received by the hotline contains an allegation of child abuse or neglect requiring investigation, the intake specialist shall transmit the report to a local office for a response pursuant to § 41-3-202.

When an incoming communication received by the hotline results in a report alleging child abuse or neglect that indicates a child may be in immediate danger of serious harm, thus requiring an immediate response, the intake specialist will promptly contact the appropriate social worker in the field designated to receive those reports and verbally inform the field social worker of:

  • The nature of the concerns
  • Where the child or children of concern can be located
  • Any other information necessary to facilitate protection of the child or children

Agency Conducting the Assessment/Investigation

Citation: Ann. Code § 41-3-202

Upon receipt of a report that a child is or has been abused or neglected, the department shall promptly assess the information contained in the report and determine the level of response required and the timeframe within which action must be initiated.

Upon receipt of a report that includes an allegation of sexual abuse or sexual exploitation when the alleged perpetrator was age 12 or older or if the department determines during any investigation that the circumstances surrounding an allegation of child abuse or neglect include an allegation of sexual abuse or sexual exploitation when the alleged perpetrator was age 12 or older, the department shall immediately report the allegation to the county attorney of the county in which the acts that are the subject of the report occurred.

Assessment/Investigation Procedures

Citation: Ann. Code § 41-3-202

If the department determines that an investigation and a safety and risk assessment are required, a social worker shall promptly conduct a thorough investigation into the circumstances surrounding the allegations of abuse or neglect of the child and perform a safety and risk assessment to determine whether the living arrangement presents an unsafe environment for the child. The safety and risk assessment may include an investigation at the home of the child involved, the child's school or daycare facility, or any other place where the child is present and into all other nonfinancial matters that are relevant to the safety and risk assessment.

An initial investigation of alleged abuse or neglect may be conducted when an anonymous report is received. However, the investigation must, within 48 hours, result in the development of independent, corroborative, and attributable information for the investigation to continue. Without the development of independent, corroborative, and attributable information, a child may not be removed from the living arrangement. If independent, corroborative, and attributable information indicating an ongoing risk results from the initial investigation, the department shall then conduct a safety and risk assessment.

The social worker is responsible for conducting the safety and risk assessment. If the child is treated at a medical facility, the social worker, county attorney, or peace officer, consistent with reasonable medical practice, has the right of access to the child for interviews, photographs, and securing of physical evidence and has the right of access to relevant hospital and medical records pertaining to the child. If an interview of the child is considered necessary, the social worker, county attorney, or peace officer may conduct an interview of the child. The interview may be conducted in the presence of the parent or guardian or an employee of the school or daycare facility attended by the child.

Timeframes for Completing Investigations

Citation: Ann. Code § 41-3-202; Child & Fam. Serv. Pol. Man. § 202-3

Within 60 days of commencing an investigation, the investigating social worker shall furnish a written safety and risk assessment to the department and, upon request, to the family.

In policy: Based on the intake assessment of the report, all reports must be prioritized as one of the following categories defining a timeline for a response:

  • Priority One: Contact must be made with the child who is alleged to have been abused and/or neglected or who are alleged to be at substantial risk of abuse and/or neglect by the child protection specialist assigned to the report within a time not to exceed 24 hours from the date of the receipt of the report.
  • Priority Two: Contact must be made with the child who is alleged to have been abused and/or neglected or at who are alleged to be at substantial risk of abuse and/or neglect by the specialist assigned to the report within a time not to exceed 72 hours from the date of the receipt of the report.
  • Priority Three: Contact must be made with the child who is alleged to have been abused and/or neglected or at who are alleged to be at substantial risk of abuse and/or neglect by the specialist assigned to the report within a time not to exceed 10 days from the date of the receipt of the report.
  • Priority Four: The report must be fully investigated and assessed and a written report documenting the determination must be completed within 60 days from the receipt of the report.

A written report, in the form of a completed Family Functioning Assessment (FFA), must be completed and approved by the CPS Supervisor within 60 days from the date that centralized intake received the report. A copy of the FFA shall be furnished to the family, upon request.

Classification of Reports

Citation: Child & Fam. Serv. Pol. Man. § 202-4

After the investigation is completed, one of the following determinations are made:

  • Substantiated: The caseworker has determined by a preponderance of the evidence that the reported act of child abuse, neglect, or exploitation occurred, and that the perpetrator of the abuse, neglect, or exploitation may pose a danger to children.
  • Founded: The caseworker has determined that there is probable cause to believe that an act of child abuse or neglect occurred.
  • Unsubstantiated: The caseworker was unable to determine by a preponderance of the evidence that the reported abuse, neglect, sexual abuse, or sexual exploitation occurred.
  • Closed without findings: This is used when the subject of the report could not be located; the family left the area before the investigation was completed; the investigation began but was never completed due to court order, administrative directive, etc.; or the caseworker was unable to make a determination within 60 days due to lack of evidence or information.
  • Indicated: Maltreatment occurred, but the perpetrator of the maltreatment is not identified under State law as a 'person legally responsible for the welfare of a child.' This is used only when the reported perpetrator is not someone responsible for the welfare of a child or when the perpetrator is unknown. Indicated reports should be reported to law enforcement, when applicable.
  • Information insufficient to warrant an investigation: After speaking to the reporter and collateral contacts, the caseworker determines there is not enough information to suspect abuse or neglect occurred.
  • Unfounded: The caseworker has determined that the reported abuse, neglect, or exploitation has not occurred.