Making and Screening Reports of Child Abuse and Neglect - Wisconsin

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Individual Responsibility to Report

Citation: Ann. Stat. § 48.981(2)-(3)

A mandated reporter who has reasonable cause to suspect that a child has been abused or neglected, or who has reason to believe that a child seen by the person in the course of professional duties has been threatened with abuse or neglect and that abuse or neglect of the child will occur, immediately shall make a report, either by telephone or personally.

Content of Reports

Citation: Ann. Stat. § 48.981(3)

The report must include the facts and circumstances contributing to a suspicion of child abuse or neglect or of unborn child abuse or to a belief that abuse or neglect will occur.

Reporting Suspicious Deaths

Citation: Ann. Stat. § 48.981(5)

A mandated reporter who has reasonable cause to suspect that a child has died as a result of abuse or neglect shall report that fact to the appropriate medical examiner or coroner. The medical examiner or coroner shall accept the report for investigation and shall report the findings to the appropriate district attorney, the Department of Children and Families or licensed child welfare agency, and if the institution making the report initially is a hospital, to the hospital.

Reporting Substance-Exposed Infants

Citation: Ann. Stat. §§ 48.981; 48.02

When the sheriff or police department receives a report, it shall within 12 hours, exclusive of Saturdays, Sundays, or legal holidays, refer the report to the county department, the department, or a licensed child welfare agency cases in which there is reason to suspect that an unborn child has been abused or there is reason to believe that an unborn child is at substantial risk of abuse. Within 24 hours after receiving a report of suspected unborn child abuse, the agency shall initiate a diligent investigation to determine if the unborn child is in need of protection or services.

In this chapter, the term 'abuse,' when used in referring to an unborn child, means serious physical harm inflicted on the unborn child, and the risk of serious physical harm to the child when born, caused by the habitual lack of self-control of the expectant mother of the unborn child in the use of alcohol beverages, controlled substances, or controlled substance analogs, exhibited to a severe degree.

Agency Receiving the Reports

Citation: Ann. Stat. § 48.981(3)

Reports shall be made, by telephone or personally, to the county department or, in a county having a population of 750,000 or more, the department; a licensed child welfare agency under contract with the department; the sheriff; or city, village, or town police department.

In a county that has wholly or partially within its boundaries a federally recognized Indian reservation or a Bureau of Indian Affairs Service area for the Ho-Chunk Tribe, if a county department that receives a report regarding a child or unborn child knows or has reason to know that the child is an Indian child who resides in the county or that the unborn child is an Indian unborn child whose expectant mother resides in the county, the county department shall provide notice, which shall consist only of the name and address of the Indian child or expectant mother and the fact that a report has been received about that Indian child or Indian unborn child, within 24 hours to one of the following:

  • If the county department knows with which Indian Tribe the child is affiliated, or with which Indian Tribe the Indian unborn child, when born, may be eligible for affiliation, and the Indian Tribe is a Wisconsin Indian Tribe, the Tribal agent of that Tribe
  • If the county department does not know with which Indian Tribe the child is affiliated, or with which Indian Tribe the Indian unborn child, when born, may be eligible for affiliation, or the child or expectant mother is not affiliated with a Wisconsin Indian Tribe, the Tribal agent serving the reservation or Ho-Chunk service area where the child or expectant mother resides
  • If neither of the above applies, any Tribal agent serving a reservation or Ho-Chunk service area in the county

Initial Screening Decisions

Citation: Ann. Stat. § 48.981

Immediately after receiving a report, the agency shall evaluate the report to determine whether there is reason to suspect that a caregiver has abused or neglected the child or has threatened the child with abuse or neglect.

If the agency determines that there is reason to suspect that substantial abuse or neglect has occurred or is likely to occur or that an investigation is otherwise necessary to ensure the safety of the child, the agency shall investigate the report.

The department shall establish a pilot program under which a selected county department may employ alternative responses to abuse or neglect reports. Immediately after receiving a report, the agency or county department shall evaluate the report to determine the most appropriate alternative response. Based on that evaluation, the county department shall respond as follows:

  • If the county department determines that there is reason to suspect that substantial abuse or neglect has occurred or is likely to occur or that an investigation is otherwise necessary to ensure the safety of the child, the county department shall investigate the report.
  • If, in conducting the investigation, the county department determines that it is not necessary for the safety of the child to complete the investigation, the county department may terminate the investigation and conduct an assessment.
  • If the county department determines that there is reason to suspect that abuse or neglect, other than substantial abuse or neglect, has occurred or is likely to occur, but that there is no immediate threat to the safety of the child, the county department shall conduct a comprehensive assessment.

Agency Conducting the Assessment/Investigation

Citation: Ann. Stat. § 48.981

The sheriff or police department shall refer reports within 12 hours to the department the following types of cases reported to the sheriff or police department:

  • Cases in which a caregiver is suspected of abuse or neglect or of threatened abuse or neglect of a child
  • Cases in which a caregiver is suspected of facilitating or failing to take action to prevent the suspected or threatened abuse or neglect of a child
  • Cases in which a person who is not a caregiver is suspected of trafficking of a child or permitting, allowing, or encouraging a child to engage in prostitution
  • Cases in which it cannot be determined who abused or neglected or threatened to abuse or neglect a child

The department or child welfare agency shall refer to the sheriff or police department all cases of suspected or threatened abuse, as defined in § 48.02(1)(b)-(f), reported to it. For cases of suspected or threatened abuse, as defined in § 48.02(1)(a), (am), (g) or (gm), or neglect, the department shall adopt a written policy specifying the kinds of reports it will routinely report to local law enforcement authorities.

If the report is of suspected or threatened abuse, the sheriff or police department and the county department, department, or licensed child welfare agency under contract with the department shall coordinate the planning and execution of the investigation of the report.

A reporter may request an immediate investigation by the sheriff or police department if the person has reason to suspect that the health or safety of a child or of an unborn child is in immediate danger. Upon receiving such a request, the sheriff or police department shall immediately investigate to determine if the child is in immediate danger and take any necessary action to protect the child or unborn child.

Assessment/Investigation Procedures

Citation: Ann. Stat. § 48.981

An investigation shall be conducted in accordance with standards established by the department. The investigation shall include observation of or an interview with the child, and, if possible, an interview with the child's parents. If the investigation is of a report of child abuse or neglect by a caregiver who continues to reside in the same dwelling as the child, the investigation also shall include, if possible, a visit to that dwelling. The agency may contact, observe, or interview the child at any location without permission from the child's parent, if necessary, to determine if the child is in need of protection or services.

If the agency determines that there is reason to suspect that abuse or neglect has occurred or is likely to occur, but, under the guidelines developed by the department, there is no immediate threat to the safety of the child and his or her family and court intervention is not necessary, the agency shall conduct a comprehensive assessment of the safety of the child and his or her family, including the risk of subsequent abuse or neglect and the strengths and needs of the child's family, to determine whether services are needed to address the issues assessed and, based on the assessment, shall offer to provide appropriate services to the child's family on a voluntary basis or refer the child's family to a service provider in the community for the provision of those services.

If the agency or county department employs the assessment response, the agency is not required to refer the report to the sheriff or police department or determine by a preponderance of the evidence that abuse or neglect has occurred or is likely to occur or that a specific person has abused or neglected the child.

Timeframes for Completing Investigations

Citation: Ann. Stat. § 48.981

Within 24 hours after receiving the report the agency or the county department shall initiate a diligent investigation to determine if the child is in need of protection or services.

The determination of whether abuse has occurred shall be made within 60 days of receipt of the report.

Classification of Reports

Citation: Ann. Stat. § 48.981

The county department, department, or a licensed child welfare agency shall determine whether abuse or neglect has occurred or is likely to occur. The determination shall be based on a preponderance of the evidence produced by the investigation.