To varying degrees of specificity, all state statutes provide mandated reporters with instructions for the reporting process.34 States generally require that mandated reporters notify the appropriate authorities within one to three days of encountering a case of suspected abuse. Mandated reporters can usually make an initial report orally, via telephone.35 Approximately two-thirds of states require mandated reporters to follow their initial report with a more detailed written report.36
The reporting laws usually specify one or more agencies to which reports should be made. Mandated reporters in the majority of states may notify the state or county agency (or its designee) responsible for social or human services, children and families, or child protection.37 In roughly two-thirds of states, mandated reporters have the option of notifying law enforcement agencies or prosecutors’ offices instead of the child protection agency.
States differ with respect to whether mandated reporters must notify an agency’s state office or one of its local offices—typically the one in the local jurisdiction in which the offense took place or the victim resides.
The only states in which the child protection agency is not designated to receive reports are those with separate reporting procedures for cases not involving abuse perpetrated by a person responsible for the victim. Take the example of Louisiana. Mandated reporters must notify the local child protection unit of the Department of Social Services if they suspect abuse perpetrated by: the victim’s parent or caretaker; a person who maintains an interpersonal dating or engagement relationship with the parent or caretaker; or a person living in the same residence with the parent or caretaker as a spouse whether married or not. In all other cases, the report must be made to a local or state law enforcement agency.
West Virginia is another example of a state where the reporting requirements depend on the nature of the offense. Local child protective services agencies are responsible for receiving reports of child abuse. If the report alleges sexual abuse, the mandated reporter must also notify the Division of Public Safety and the law enforcement agency with investigative jurisdiction.