Abuse Reporting Law

Because children often can’t protect themselves, the law offers them greater protection than adults in certain situations. The state reserves the right to intervene in a family when there is a danger to a child’s health, welfare and safety. In order to protect children, the law requires certain persons, who may have frequent contact with children and their families and are in a position to identify child abuse and neglect, to report it.
In California, all child care workers are mandated reporters – required by law – to report known or suspected instances of child abuse.

Why Must You Report?

The primary intent of the reporting law is to protect the child. Protecting the child may also provide the opportunity to protect other children in the home. It is equally important to provide help for the parents. Parents may be unable to ask for help directly, and child abuse may be their way of calling attention to family problems. The report of abuse may be a catalyst for bringing about change in the home environment, which in turn may help to lower the risk of abuse in the home.

What is Child Abuse?

The Penal Code (PC) defines child abuse as: “a physical injury which is inflicted by other than accidental means on a child by another person.” It also includes emotional abuse in out-of-home care. Child abuse does not include a mutual affray between minors, reasonable and necessary force used by a peace officer under specified circumstances, or spanking that is reasonable and age appropriate and does not expose the child to risk of serious injury.

Physical Abuse

is the infliction of a physical injury by other than accidental means; or the use of cruel, unjustifiable physical pain or mental suffering. An accidental injury is usually not reportable unless you believe the adult in charge failed to provide reasonable or appropriate supervision.

Sexual Abuse

means sexual assault or sexual exploitation of a child. Sexual assault includes rape, incest, sodomy, lewd and lascivious acts upon a child under 14, penetration of a genital or anal opening by a foreign object, oral copulation and child molestation. Sexual exploitation refers to all conduct which allows, assists, promotes, encourages or coerces a child to engage in pornography or prostitution.


is negligent treatment or mal-treatment by a person responsible for a child, which threatens the child’s health or welfare. Neglect includes both action and failure to act.

General neglect

means the negligent failure of the person responsible for the child to provide adequate food, clothing, shelter, medical care, or supervision, where no physical injury to the child has occurred. It is generally worthwhile to counsel a parent whom you believe is not adequately caring for a child, and to refer them to local resources; it is often unintentional.

Severe neglect

means the negligent failure of the person responsible for the child to protect the child from severe malnutrition or medically diagnosed non-organic failure to thrive. It also includes intentional failure by a child’s provider to maintain adequate food, clothing, shelter or medical care, and causing or permitting danger to the child’s health or person.

Emotional abuse

is the infliction of mental suffering or emotional harm – may be reported, although reporting is not mandatory unless the emotional suffering resulted from willful and knowing cruelty.

Who Reports?

Most people who work directly with children are defined as child care custodians, and are therefore mandated reporters of known or suspected child abuse. This includes all licensees, administrators, teachers, teachers’ aides, and other employees of child care centers and preschools, as well as family day care homes.

When Do You Report?

Child abuse must be reported when one who is a legally mandated reporter “has knowledge of or observes a child in his or her professional capacity, or within the scope of his or her employment, whom he or she knows or reasonably suspects has been the victim of child abuse”.

To Whom Do You Report?

The report must be made to a child protective agency. A child protective agency is a county welfare or probation department or a police or sheriff’s department. Exceptions are reports by commercial print and photographic print processors, which are made to the law enforcement agency having jurisdiction.

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