What Is Mandated Reporting?

policewoman taking a statement from young man


Mandated reporting refers to the legal obligation to report abuse. Mandated reporters are individuals or agencies that are legally required to make these reports. In the United States, mandated reporting laws vary significantly. The Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN) allows you to look up mandated reporting laws for your state.

Who Is a Mandated Reporter?

Since laws vary by state, there are some jurisdictional differences about who is required to make these reports. Typically, this includes the following individuals:

In addition, certain organizations and agencies are required to report suspected abuse, which can include:

  • Daycares
  • Child advocacy organizations
  • Domestic abuse organizations
  • Hospitals
  • Medical clinics
  • Shelters
  • Schools

You do not have to be a mandated reporter to report suspected abuse. Anyone can report suspected abuse, and in some states, non-mandated reporters can make these reports anonymously.

What Are Mandated Reporters Required to Report?

Although states vary on the specifics, mandated reporters exist to ensure safety by reporting suspected abuse. The local department of human services (sometimes called Child Protective Services or Department of Social Services) investigates the report and determines whether intervention is necessary.

Mandated reporters may report suspected child abuse, elder abuse, or vulnerable adult abuse.

Abuse can include physical, sexual, or emotional abuse (though many states do not include emotional abuse under mandated reporting laws), neglect, and exposure to unsafe environments, such as drug use or domestic violence.

Mandated reporters typically do not investigate suspected abuse; rather, their obligation is to report their suspicions. For example, if a child discloses that a parent hit them, the mandated reporter does not reach out to the parent to confirm the report but instead reports the allegation.

Mandated reporters are only required to disclose allegations to the department of human services. They are not required to tell the parent or guardian about the report, and often a mandated reporter will not share the allegation if the guardian might be the perpetrator. The information is kept private for safety reasons and to prevent further abuse in retaliation for making the report.

What Happens If a Mandated Reporter Doesn't Report?

Mandated reporters are legally required to follow state laws about reporting abuse and neglect. Failing to make a report is a crime and is classed as a misdemeanor in most states, with specific penalties varying by jurisdiction. They must report even if they are uncertain about whether or not the allegation is true. Mandated reporters might also be subject to civil litigation for failing to protect a vulnerable individual.

In some states, there is no statute of limitations on failing to make a report. As such, victims of abuse can pursue charges against the mandated reporter no matter how long ago they disclosed the abuse.

Because mandated reporters are required to make these reports, they cannot be penalized for making a report in good faith. In addition, if someone who is not a mandated reporter makes a report that turns out to be unfounded, they cannot be penalized. This is because safety is important, and people must not be penalized for trying to keep vulnerable populations safe.

What Information Is Disclosed in the Report?

Again, requirements vary by state; however, reports must include information about the victim, perpetrator, current location, and the allegation. Sometimes, limited information is available, and the report will only include the information that is available.

The mandated reporter can request a confirmation letter documenting that they made the report. The letter might include information about the outcome of the investigation.

Guardians can request information about the report; however, this might not include who made the report. Because a perpetrator might punish the victim for reporting abuse, information about who made the report is typically kept confidential.

What Other Things Might Be Reported?

Sometimes, information might not fall under mandated reporting, but an individual might still disclose it for safety or legal reasons.

Duty to Warn

Many therapists and other professionals will also report threats to harm self or others, known as duty to warn or duty to protect. In most states, this does not fall under mandated reporting. However, there is civil precedent indicating that a therapist can be held liable if a client discloses a plan to hurt themselves or someone else, and the therapist does not take steps to intervene.

This requirement is based on the legal case, Tarasoff vs Regents of the University of California, a 1976 case in which a client disclosed to his therapist that he intended to commit murder. The victim's family successfully sued the therapist for failing to protect the victim after the client carried out his plan.

Duty to warn can include contacting the potential victim if the information is available. It can also include contacting law enforcement about a threat. If someone discloses that they are suicidal and have a plan or intent to end their life, the therapist might contact crisis or emergency services to ensure their safety.

Because duty to warn involves civil liability, it is separate from mandated reporting laws.

Court Orders

Professionals might be subject to a court order from a judge to disclose information. Refusing to comply with a court order is illegal, and defying a court order can lead to jail time. Judges might request information as part of criminal cases or child custody disputes.

Court orders do not fall under mandated reporting laws.

A Word From Verywell

The goal of mandated reporting is to ensure safety for vulnerable populations and prevent abuse. To learn more about your state's mandated reporting laws, check your government website. You can learn what circumstances require a report and which professionals and organizations are mandated reporters.

1 Source
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Tarasoff v. Regents of the University of California, 131 Cal. Rptr. 14 (Cal. 1976).

By Amy Marschall, PsyD
Dr. Amy Marschall is an autistic clinical psychologist with ADHD, working with children and adolescents who also identify with these neurotypes among others. She is certified in TF-CBT and telemental health.