Making and Screening Reports of Child Abuse and Neglect - Washington

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Individual Responsibility to Report

Citation: Rev. Code § 26.44.030

When any mandated reporter has reasonable cause to believe that a child has suffered abuse or neglect, he or she shall make a report to the law enforcement agency or to the Department of Children, Youth, and Families.

When any person, in his or her official supervisory capacity with a nonprofit or for-profit organization, has reasonable cause to believe that a child has suffered abuse or neglect caused by a person over whom he or she regularly exercises supervisory authority, he or she shall report such incident, or cause a report to be made, to the proper law enforcement agency, if the person alleged to have caused the abuse or neglect is employed by, contracted by, or volunteers with the organization and coaches, trains, educates, or counsels a child or children or regularly has unsupervised access to a child or children as part of the employment, contract, or voluntary service. No one shall be required to report when he or she obtains the information solely as a result of a privileged communication.

The report must be made at the first opportunity, but in no case longer than 48 hours after there is reasonable cause to believe that the child has suffered abuse or neglect.

Content of Reports

Citation: Rev. Code §§ 26.44.030; 26.44.040

The reports must contain the following information, if known:

  • The name, address, and age of the child
  • The name and address of the child's parents, stepparents, guardians, or other persons having custody of the child
  • The nature and extent of alleged injuries, neglect, or sexual abuse
  • Any evidence of previous injuries, including their nature and extent
  • Any other information that might be helpful in establishing the cause of the child's death, injury, or injuries, and the identity of the alleged perpetrator or perpetrators

The report must include the identity of the accused, if known.

Reporting Suspicious Deaths

Citation: Rev. Code § 26.44.030(4), (5)

Upon receiving a report of an incident of alleged abuse or neglect involving a child who has died, the department shall report the incident to the proper law enforcement agency, including military law enforcement, if appropriate. The department shall notify the law enforcement agency within 72 hours after the report is received. If the department makes an oral report, a written report must also be made to the proper law enforcement agency within 5 days thereafter.

Any law enforcement agency that receives a report of alleged abuse or neglect involving a child who has died shall report the incident in writing to the proper county prosecutor or city attorney for appropriate action whenever the law enforcement agency's investigation reveals that a crime may have been committed. The law enforcement agency shall also notify the department of all reports received and the law enforcement agency's disposition of them.

Reporting Substance-Exposed Infants

Citation: Rev. Code §§ 26.44.170; 26.44.200

When an investigation is made that includes an in-person contact with the person alleged to have committed abuse, there shall be a determination of whether it is probable that the use of alcohol or controlled substances is a contributing factor.

If, in the course of investigating an allegation relating to the manufacture of methamphetamine or possession of ephedrine or any of its salts or isomers or salts of isomers, pseudoephedrine or any of its salts or isomers or salts of isomers, pressurized ammonia gas, or pressurized ammonia gas solution with intent to manufacture methamphetamine, a law enforcement agency discovers that a child is present at the site, the agency shall contact the department immediately.

Agency Receiving the Reports

Citation: Rev. Code §§ 26.44.040; 26.44.030

An immediate oral report must be made by telephone or otherwise to the proper law enforcement agency or the department and, upon request, must be followed by a report in writing.

Upon receiving a report of an incident of alleged abuse or neglect involving a child who has died, has had physical injury or injuries inflicted upon him or her other than by accidental means, or who has been subjected to alleged sexual abuse, the department shall report such incident to the proper law enforcement agency, including military law enforcement, if appropriate. In emergency cases, where the child's welfare is endangered, the department shall notify the proper law enforcement agency within 24 hours after a report is received by the department. In all other cases, the department shall notify the law enforcement agency within 72 hours. If the department makes an oral report, a written report also must be made to the proper law enforcement agency within 5 days thereafter.

Any law enforcement agency shall notify the department of all reports received and the law enforcement agency's disposition of them. In emergency cases, where the child's welfare is endangered, the law enforcement agency shall notify the department within 24 hours. In all other cases, the law enforcement agency shall notify the department within 72 hours.

Initial Screening Decisions

Citation: Rev. Code § 26.44.030

Upon receiving a report of alleged abuse or neglect, the department shall use one of the following discrete responses to reports of child abuse or neglect that are screened in and accepted for departmental response: Investigation or family assessment.

In making the response the department shall do the following:

  • Use a method by which to assign cases to investigation or family assessment that are based on an array of factors that may include the presence of: imminent danger, level of risk, number of previous child abuse or neglect reports, or other presenting case characteristics, such as the type of alleged maltreatment and the age of the alleged victim
  • Allow for a change in response assignment based on new information that alters risk or safety level
  • Allow families assigned to family assessment to choose to receive an investigation rather than a family assessment
  • Provide a full investigation if a family refuses the initial family assessment
  • Provide voluntary services to families based on the results of the initial family assessment
  • Conduct an investigation, and not a family assessment, in response to an allegation that the department determines, based on the intake assessment, one of the following:
    • Indicates a child's health, safety, and welfare will be seriously endangered if not taken into custody for reasons including, but not limited to, sexual abuse and sexual exploitation
    • Poses a serious threat of substantial harm to a child
    • Constitutes conduct involving a criminal offense that has, or is about to occur, in which the child is the victim
    • Involves an abandoned child
    • Involves a child who is an adjudicated dependent child, or a child who is in a facility that is licensed, operated, or certified for care of children

Agency Conducting the Assessment/Investigation

Citation: Rev. Code § 26.44.050

Except for reports that are assigned for family assessment, upon the receipt of a report alleging that abuse or neglect has occurred, the law enforcement agency or the department must investigate and provide the protective services section with a report and, where necessary, refer the report to the court.

Assessment/Investigation Procedures

Citation: Rev. Code § 26.44.030

For reports that are assigned to a family assessment, the department shall do the following:

  • Provide the family with a written explanation of the procedure and purpose of an assessment
  • Offer services to the family in a manner that makes it clear that acceptance of the services is voluntary
  • Implement the family assessment in a consistent and cooperative manner
  • Have the parents sign an agreement before services are initiated that informs the parents of their rights under a family assessment response, all their options, and the options the department has if the parents do not sign the consent form

In conducting an investigation or family assessment, the department or law enforcement agency may interview children. For a family assessment, the preferred practice is to request a parent's permission to interview the child before conducting the interview unless doing so would compromise the safety of the child or the integrity of the assessment.

The department shall use a risk assessment when investigating alleged child abuse and neglect referrals. Substance abuse must be a risk factor. In investigating and responding to allegations of child abuse and neglect, the department may conduct background checks as authorized by State and Federal law.

The department shall make efforts as soon as practicable to determine the military status of parents whose children are subject to abuse or neglect allegations. If the department determines that a parent is in the military, the department shall notify a Department of Defense Family Advocacy Program that there is an allegation of abuse and neglect against that parent that is screened in and open for investigation.

Timeframes for Completing Investigations

Citation: Rev. Code § 26.44.030

For reports of alleged abuse or neglect that are accepted for investigation by the department, the investigation shall be conducted within timeframes established by the department in rule. In no case shall the investigation extend longer than 90 days from the date the report is received, unless the investigation is being conducted under a written protocol pursuant to § 26.44.180, and a law enforcement agency or prosecuting attorney has determined that a longer investigation period is necessary.

The department shall complete a family assessment within 45 days of receiving the report; however, upon parental agreement, the family assessment response period may be extended up to 120 days.

Classification of Reports

Citation: Rev. Code §§ 26.44.030; 26.44.020

At the completion of the investigation, the department shall make a finding that the report of child abuse or neglect is founded or unfounded, as follows:

  • A report is 'founded' when the department determines that, based on available information, it is more likely than not that child abuse or neglect did occur.
  • A report is 'unfounded' when the department determines that available information indicates that, more likely than not, child abuse or neglect did not occur, or that there is insufficient evidence for the department to determine whether the alleged child abuse did or did not occur.

In the family assessment response, the department shall not make a finding as to whether child abuse or neglect occurred. No one shall be named as a perpetrator and no investigative finding shall be entered in the department's child abuse or neglect database.