This short article explains the rules on how child abuse and neglect is reported, including who is required to report, what the state central registry is, how a report is investigated, and what happens next.

Mandatory Reporters and the State Central Registry

What is a mandatory reporter?

Suspected child abuse, neglect or maltreatment can be reported by anyone. However, New York law requires certain people to report any suspected maltreatment that they come across in their work. They are called "mandatory reporters." There is a long list of who is covered by this law, but the most common examples are people working in:

  • law enforcement, 
  • schools and daycare, 
  • medical, mental health or dental offices and 
  • social services. 

If mandatory reporters fail to make a report and a child is harmed, they can be punished under criminal or civil law.

Mandatory reporters are not supposed to make a complete investigation before making a report.

They are supposed to call any time they have "reasonable cause" to suspect that a child has been neglected or abused.

They are encouraged to be "better safe than sorry."

There is both over-reporting and under-reporting, but people covered by the law are trained to call when in doubt.

In NYC in 2001, almost two thirds of the reports by mandatory reporters that were investigated were determined to be "unfounded," meaning there was no believable evidence of neglect or abuse.

The State Central Registry

New York State has a central office to receive reports of suspected child abuse and maltreatment, called the State Central Register or "SCR." It is located in Albany and receives reports from two "800" numbers, one for mandated reporters and one for non-mandated reporters (such as neighbors or relatives). 

People trained as child protective workers answer the calls and take down as much information as is available.

What happens after a report is made?

If what the caller tells them would not be considered abuse or neglect even if true, they will not accept the report.

If the facts stated would add up to abuse or neglect if true, they will take the report and send it to the local Child Protective Service ("CPS"), or Children’s Services ("ACS") for calls about people living in NYC,  for an investigation.

CPS/ACS has sixty days to complete an investigation, but they may take less time. At the end of the investigation, they can decide that the case is "unfounded" or that it is "indicated". "Indicated" means that there is some "credible" (believable) evidence of abuse or neglect.

If a case is "indicated", the worker can decide that immediate court action is required.  However, an indicated case doesn't always mean that the children will be removed from the home or that there will be a Family Court case.

If the investigator thinks it is indicated, but that it was just a one-time event that is unlikely to happen again, the case can be closed, but the parent will still have a record at the SCR.

If the worker thinks there are ongoing problems in the family, she can offer services to resolve those problems. Even if those services are successful and the family is no longer involved with ACS, the SCR record remains on file.

Sometimes families can receive services for a while and then a case can be filed in court, either because the worker thinks the family didn't use the services or because the problems continued even with the services.

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Last Reviewed: July 13, 2011