Mandated reporters play an essential role in protecting children from harm but 
The mandated reporter system in this country is broken.

According to government statistics, during 2019, CPS agencies received an estimated 4.4 million referrals involving the alleged maltreatment of approximately 7.9 million children with anywhere between 85% and 90% of all calls being found unsubstantiated. For 2019, more than two-thirds (68.6 percent) of all reports of alleged child abuse or neglect were made by professionals. The term “professional” means that the person who was the source of the report had contact with the alleged child or maltreatment victim as part of his or her job. The most common professional report sources were education personnel.

This has profound implications for foster and adopted children and children from complex trauma, who often have unknown or difficult pre-verbal and childhood experiences as well as complex medical diagnoses. Without an understanding of the behaviors and emotions they are seeing, adoptive and foster parents can often be the target of a mandatory reporter call by school personnel. FACTS4SafeFamilies’ goal is to provide research and information to provide clarity to schools for better discernment in placing these calls and to protect families from unneeded and harmful investigations.

FACTS4SafeFamilies is working to provide a better understanding of adoptive and foster children who have suffered from breaks in early attachment,  preverbal and childhood trauma, to schools in order for accurate assessments to be made and appropriate supports to be provided. 

DCFS calls on children are really calls on the entire family. It causes collateral damage and puts stress on the parents and siblings. It  creates a chaotic situation that families then have to dig out of. It puts a government agency into a family‘s life. It often harms the relationship between the parent and child as it suggests to the child that they are unsafe and it becomes a permanent part of their family story.

This data has larger implications for the community and the use of this government protective agency. DCFS has limited resources and staff. When calls are made in situations that do not meet the criteria for neglect and abuse, it takes those resources and staff away from situations where children are truly in danger. DCFS needs manpower and resources to investigate and follow up. 

  • Mandated reporting is the only area of law that allows for someone to be considered guilty before proven innocent.
  • Allegations can be made by anyone and the accuser is granted complete immunity.
  • Foster and adoptive parents can never examine or confront the accuser.
  • Standard is “reasonable suspicion” or “credible evidence”  which means it’s believable but not necessarily true evidence. It is one- sided. 

Both the Casey Family Foundation and ProPublica have shown that the current mandatory reporting systems in our country are broken. Most states offer complete immunity to mandated reporters who are not accurately trained to understand the complexity of behaviors and emotions they see with kids who have complex trauma backgrounds. 

  According to a study on unwarranted DCFS calls provided by the Casey Family Foundation

  • There are limits to the benefits of mandatory reporting. Studies show that more reporting is neither linked to better detection of maltreatment nor correlated with better outcomes.
  • Policies focus on increasing the number of reports, but do not focus on reducing unwarranted reports. Low substantiation rates reflect over-reporting.
  • People use moral judgments in deciding whether to report. When presented with vignettes of unsupervised children, for example, research participants deemed the situation more or less dangerous based on the reason for the parent’s absence. These moral judgments are particularly detrimental to families that are socially or economically disadvantaged.
  • Reporting can be used as a form of community policing. When families are threatened with calls to CPS for picking children up late from daycare or for leaving them in a car for brief periods of time, the power of the state is being misused.


Dr. Benjamin Levi, a pediatrician and former director of the Center for the Protection of Children, a research and policy group at Penn State Children’s Hospital, said mandated reporter training programs typically lack a clear explanation of the “reasonable suspicion” of abuse that should trigger a report.

“‘Reasonable suspicion’ is a feeling — they don’t even define it,” said Levi, who developed an alternative training for mandatory reporters to help fill in the gaps. “If you increase mandated reporting, and you don’t make sure that mandated  reporters know what to report and what not to report, you’ve just made the problem worse.”

When mandated reporting does more harm than good: Tools for a new approach | American Federation of Teachers