Mandated Reporting Policies Do Not Promote More Accurate Reporting of Suspected Neglect

Each year, there are approximately 4 million referrals of suspected child maltreatment, with around 2 million of those reports meeting the criteria for an investigation or alternative response. However, only about 600,000 of those reports are substantiated (i.e., an investigator determines that abuse or neglect occurred) as cases of child maltreatmentSeventy-six percent of substantiated reports include allegations of neglect.

While federal law establishes a broad definition of child maltreatment—inclusive of both neglect and various forms of abuse—neglect is particularly hard to define, investigate, and address because it is often related to poverty. While poverty is not the same as neglect, all states’ definitions of maltreatment include at least one factor related to income. This results in poverty-related concerns routinely being reported as child maltreatment to the child welfare agency. These definitions may contribute to racial disparities within the child welfare system, since families of color are more likely to experience poverty due to systemic racism and bias and families in poverty are more likely to be reported to child welfare agencies and overrepresented in foster care.

States have enacted various mandated reporting policies, including training requirements for mandated reporters (to ensure that mandated reporters are knowledgeable of the warning signs of maltreatment and understand the requirements of reporting suspected maltreatment) and universal mandated reporting (making all adults responsible for reporting maltreatment). Teachers, medical professionals, police, and others whose occupations make them legally responsible for reporting suspected child maltreatment account for more than two thirds of all maltreatment reports, with the remainder coming from family or friends.


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