Identifying Mandated Reporting Situations



Welcome to the Family Program e-learning lesson on identifying mandated reporting situations. The five types of critical situations that need to be addressed and reported on as ethical responsibility are domestic violence, child abuse and neglect, abuse or neglect of a vulnerable adult, danger to self, and danger to others. Identifying each type of crisis, as well as understanding your responsibility in each, can be quite challenging. By having clear definitions of what constitutes risk, Family Program staff members can help develop greater confidence in their ability to respond effectively. At the end of this lesson you will be able to identify specific behaviors that constitute the five types of crisis situations to be responded to, recognize the responsibility and limits of responsibility in dealing with crises, and recall the importance of supervision, consultation, or peer support in managing crises.

Laws for mandated reporting situations vary by state.

Each state determines the types of professionals who are mandated by law to report abuse. However, many states have a broad rule requiring everyone to report suspicions of abuse. It will be important to familiarize yourself with the unique differences that exist in your state’s laws. A good resource is the Child Welfare Information Gateway. You can use this searchable database to find the rules in your state. In addition, the website provides the resources you will need to access in case of each type of crisis. Having these phone numbers readily available is important to your job.

Family Program staff members have clear requirements for reporting.

It is a challenge for even seasoned professionals to deal with responding to these types of crisis situations. Seasoned professionals commonly consult with a peer or a supervisor about the situation. This provides additional support and increases confidence in the action that must be taken. A common challenge that reporters deal with is thinking that they must have certainty about a situation before they respond. The law only requires that you have a reasonable suspicion of abuse or neglect. Other professionals, including child protection workers, police, and mental health professionals, are tasked with determining the best course of action. This is not the responsibility of the Family Program staff member. It is easy to forget this and to feel that you have to fix the problem or have absolute certainty about the occurrence of abuse. Another challenge reporters experience is the fear that reporting will destroy the relationship previously established with the family. While it is an option to make the report anonymously, oftentimes at least one family member will respond with relief that a serious situation is finally being addressed.

CHAPTER 1: Types of Crisis

It can be difficult to determine certain forms of abuse. After all, what one person sees as normal child disciplinary practices, another person might experience as child abuse. This can be an understandable source of anxiety for those responsible for reporting abusive situations. The best thing to do is gain an in-depth knowledge of your state’s requirements. When you have a good sense of the law, you will be more confident in interpreting complex situations that appear to involve abusive behavior. This chapter includes general requirements to follow for each type of crisis situation you may encounter.

Child abuse and neglect puts a minor’s safety at risk.

Child abuse and neglect is any action or failure to respond to situations which result in physical or emotional harm of a child under the age of eighteen on the part of the parent or caregiver which puts the child’s safety in imminent risk. Child abuse and neglect can also involve sexual abuse or the exploitation of a child under the age of eighteen.

Domestic abuse involves physical or emotional mistreatment of a domestic partner.

Domestic abuse can be both physical and emotional. Examples include hitting, shoving, pulling hair, kicking, and destruction of property. Emotional abuse includes put-downs, having sudden outbursts of anger or rage, accusations of cheating, controlling the relationship, refusing access to financial needs, and forcing a partner to have sex.

Danger to self occurs when an individual threatens his or her own well-being.

When a person makes suicidal statements ranging from thoughts of hurting himself/herself to having a clear plan to die by suicide, he/she will need to be evaluated by a trained mental health professional.

Danger to others occurs when an individual threatens the safety of others.

Threats to harm or kill a specific person, or a plan to carry out a threat requires an immediate call to the police. While the person may say, “I didn’t really mean what I said,” it is not the responsibility of the staff member to determine how realistic the threat is. That is the responsibility of the police to handle.

Abuse or neglect of a vulnerable adult occurs when an individual threatens the safety of a vulnerable adult.

A vulnerable adult may have a disability or be elderly and bedridden. Any acts of neglect or of causing physical harm need to be reported. Many states have an elder abuse hotline for this purpose. They will follow up with an investigation.

CHAPTER 2: Challenging Types of Crisis

Of these five categories, domestic violence and danger to self may be the most challenging to deal with. In both instances, individuals can be resistant to receiving help. In the case of domestic violence, those suffering the abuse often reject assistance or hide the signs of abuse. In the case of danger to self, the signs are not always clear. The consequences of not responding adequately to a person with suicidal thoughts can be quite serious. While these situations can be extremely stressful, you should not feel that you have to go through them alone. You have probably had only limited training dealing with these types of situations. But that’s okay, because you are not necessarily a counselor, you are not responsible for fixing the problem. As a caring professional, it may be tempting to fix every problem or become too involved. But in these situations, it helps to seek out a supervisor to discuss the limits of your role. Your key role is to make the correct referral or phone call for a more qualified professional to take over the situation.

Your knowledge of the situation often depends on the comfort level of victims of abuse.

If a domestic partner contacts the Family Assistance Center stating that a partner is attacking him or her, the immediate response should be to contact the police. Often, however, evidence of abuse will reveal itself after the fact. For example, a Family Program staff member may see bruises or be told minimized versions of what occurred. Victims may report that they fell down the stairs rather than admit an instance of physical abuse. Be patient – it can be difficult for an adult to admit to being abused. Often, people are ashamed that such events occur in their lives. At the same time, individuals may be fearful of what might happen if they report the abuse. Another reason for individuals’ reluctance to seek help may be financial need. Housing and child provisions may depend on the income of the abuser. Whatever the reason may be for the abused person withholding information about the abuse, you should help victims understand that things will only get better once the abuse is reported.

It can be difficult to read the signs that exist in a danger-to-self crisis.

Some people make statements such as, “My family would be better off without me,” “Life is too hard,” and “Pretty soon you won’t have to worry about me.” Such statements should be responded to immediately. Simply ask the individual if he or she has ever had any thoughts about suicide. If the answer is yes, you will need to ask additional questions such as what is the plan for suicide and does anyone else know about these suicidal thoughts and plans. At this point, you can let the person know of your concern, and let him or her know you want to seek help. It will be important to contact a family member as well as a supervisor. If one is not available, you will need to remain with the person until you can get help. If an individual abruptly leaves, you will need to contact the police. If the person is ready for help, a family member can take him or her to the emergency room for evaluation.

When a person who is clearly a danger to him- or herself refuses to go, the police can escort the individual to the emergency room. No matter what, the person should not be left alone. If an individual is combative about going to the E.R. it would be unsafe for a family member or caregiver to escort the person. This will be a task for the police.

CHAPTER 3: Maintaining Appropriate Boundaries

Maintaining a solid boundary means recognizing that you and the person you are helping are two separate individuals with different needs, emotions, and abilities. Caregivers often choose their careers because they have a great deal of empathy for people in pain. This is often a positive quality. However, it can also be a quality that leads some people to blur the boundary between the professional and the personal. Behavior that could be classified as blurring the boundaries between professional and personal includes disclosing personal stories as a way to relate to a person you’re working with, taking on responsibilities for someone you are working with outside of a professional setting, talking about work-related matters outside of work, and talking about personal matters at work. A good way to expend the excess energy you might feel from working with certain individuals is to debrief with a supervisor. Not only is it the appropriate forum for you to discuss your work experiences, it also will keep your supervisor up to date about the people you are working with. Your supervisor will then be in a much better position to give you guidance in the future should the need arise.

Maintain boundaries no matter how relevant your personal story may seem.

Blurring professional and personal boundaries often occurs when someone in your professional life is experiencing something you’ve dealt with in your personal life. It is quite natural to want to rescue the person from making the same mistakes you might have made in the past, but do not project your experience onto the situation at hand. Of course, with that limitation in mind, there is no reason not to draw on your own experiences for insight in helping the person you are currently dealing with. Just be sure to frame your perspective in a way that keeps explicit details of your personal experiences out of the conversation.

Debriefing with a supervisor provides an appropriate forum for discussion.

Following a crisis situation, it is important to debrief with a supervisor. You can talk about how you felt during the crisis, the decision you made, and your reason for making the decision. You may have decided that the situation did not warrant a report. It is helpful to process this decision to make sure you didn’t miss something important. Your supervisor may disagree with your decision and want you to make a report. Your supervisor can assist you in feeling more confident in the overall outcome. Processing a crisis situation is a form of self-care which is critical if you are to do your job effectively. Remind yourself that you’ve done all you can and congratulate yourself on responding effectively. Following a stressful situation, take some time to do something relaxing and calming. The benefits will be very useful.


You should now be more familiar with what’s required of you as a Family Program staff member working with individuals experiencing a crisis. This lesson covered the types of crises you might encounter, along with which crises often prove most challenging. When things do get difficult, you should know now to seek the help of a supervisor or other qualified professional. Finally, you should be able to stay consciously aware of maintaining boundaries between your professional and personal lives. Thank you for taking the time to learn about identifying mandated reporting situations.

Identifying mandated reporting situations is easier with the right knowledge.

Identifying mandated reporting situations requires you to know the laws of your state regarding a caretaker’s responsibilities and the requirements of your job outlined by Family Program. Even when you have a strong knowledge of such requirements, however, complex situations may arise that can make your job very challenging. In such situations, it is best to seek out the guidance of a supervisor or other trained professional. Positive outcomes for the individuals you work with depend on you not taking on more responsibility than you can handle. With that in mind, maintain appropriate boundaries between your personal and professional lives. While you may be tempted to put your whole self into providing top quality assistance to the people you work with, you must balance professional and personal interests. You will realize that, in fact, maintaining such separation is the only way to provide the top quality service you strive to achieve.

The following resources will help you more effectively identify mandated reporting situations.

The Child Welfare Information Gateway has a “state statutes search,” which provides specific information about the laws and explanations around abuse and neglect in your state.

The following websites provide useful information and handbooks to address, combat, and respond to domestic violence.