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Reporting Child Abuse

Definitions of Child Abuse

Stop Abuse imageCalifornia state statutes describe physical and sexual abuse, neglect and endangerment. In general, they can be described this way:

Physical abuse is any act(s) which results in non-accidental injuries to a child including patterns of unexplained injuries and injuries that appear to have been caused in a manner inconsistent with the explanation. Physical abuse includes unreasonably restraining a child with tying, caging or chaining and excessive or unreasonably forceful discipline that leave injuries or marks on a child. Physical abuse is also defined as assaultive behavior not usually associated with discipline such as shaking, kicking, cutting and burning.

Neglect is the failure of a parent to provide for the child’s physical, emotional, medical and educational well-being. California law states that a parent or caretaker who willfully deprives a child of necessary food, clothing, shelter, health care, or supervision appropriate to the child's age, when the parent is reasonably able to make the necessary provisions and the deprivation harms or is likely to substantially harm the child's physical, mental, or emotional health is guilty of neglect of a child. A parent who knowingly fails to protect a child from continuing physical or sexual abuse is also guilty of neglect.

Endangerment is when a parent or caretaker intentionally or recklessly causes or permits a child to be placed in a situation likely to substantially harm the child's physical, mental, or emotional health or cause the child's death including allowing a child to be present where illegal drugs are being made, kept, sold or used and recklessly allowing a juvenile access to a loaded firearm.

How do I report suspected child abuse? Top of page

child abuse imageThe San Jose Police Department and Santa Clara County Department of Family and Children’s Services are the two agencies charged with receiving reports of child abuse occurring in San Jose. These agencies are also responsible for the joint investigation of child abuse allegations. You may report suspicions of child abuse to the San Jose Police Department 24 hours a day by calling 911. The operator will ask you to describe the circumstances and then dispatch a patrol officer to take a report. You may also call at the Santa Clara County Department of Family and Children’s Services at (408) 299-2071. A child welfare social worker is available 24 hours a day to take reports.

When reporting suspicions of child abuse, be prepared to provide as much information as you have including the names and addresses of the child and parents and specific data about what happened, who was involved, and when and where the events took place. Other helpful information is what school the child attends, who else might have information about the child’s situation, where the child is now and the names of siblings or other members of the household.

Any report made to the San Jose Police Department will automatically be reported to the Santa Clara County Department of Family and Children’s Services, as any report made to the Santa Clara County Department of Family and Children’s Services will be sent to the San Jose Police Department. This is included in the Child Abuse Protocol for Santa Clara County Law Enforcement outlining requirements for child abuse investigations. However, there are often times when it is most appropriate to call the police to make the initial report.

  • If you believe a child is in imminent danger of injury, death or sexual abuse, call 911 and describe the situation to the operator with as much detail as you can. The police have the ability to remove a child from a dangerous situation while a child protection investigation is completed.
  • If you believe that a child has injuries that need medical attention, call 911 and provide as much information as possible. The operator may dispatch paramedics and the police to insure that the child receives needed medical care.
  • If you believe that the child would not be safe returning or remaining at home, call 911. The police can make arrangements for the temporary care of a child when his home is unsafe.

Who must report child abuse? Top of page

California law requires that any person whose job involves working professionally with children and who knows or has reason to believe that a child is being neglected or physically or sexually abused shall immediately report the suspected incident to the local police and/or child protection.  Mandated reporters include:

  1. Childcare custodians (school, daycare, athletic coach, public or private day camp, etc.);
  2. Health practitioners (medical and non-medical);
  3. Employees of child protective agencies (police department and Department of Family and Children’s Services (DFCS));
  4. Commercial computer technicians, film and photographic print processors;
  5. Child visitation monitors;
  6. Peace Officers;
  7. Probation and parole officers;
  8. Custodial officers and defined by PC 831.5;
  9. Firefighters, animal control officers, humane society officers;
  10. Clergy (excluding confession or its equivalent)

The report must be made as soon as practical.

Are there penalties for a mandated reporter who fails to report child abuse? Top of page

Yes. Failure of a mandated reporter to report suspected abuse is a misdemeanor.  Intentionally concealing one’s failure to report is a continuing offense until the failure to report is discovered.

If the allegation of child abuse cannot be proven, will I get into trouble for making the report? Top of page

No, you will not. Anyone reporting in good faith (with a reasonable belief) may not be criminally prosecuted or sued in civil court for libel, slander, defamation, invasion of privacy, or breach of confidentiality. A person who knowingly or recklessly makes a false report is not protected from prosecution or civil suit.

What should I do if a child tells me about abuse? Top of page

  • Be calm. If you appear to be angry, upset or very emotional, the child will be frightened.
  • Let the child tell you about what happened in his own words and then reassure him that you believe him.
  • Tell the child that he is not in trouble and that he did the right thing to tell you about what happened.
  • Tell the child that you want to make sure that he will be safe. Let him know that you are going to get help so that this doesn’t happen again.
  • Report what the child told you to the police or child protection.

How do I recognize child abuse? Top of page

Sad child imageSigns of physical abuse include unexplained or unreasonable bruises, burns, cuts, abrasions and broken bones. Patterned marks made by objects like belts, cords, teeth, handprints, and clothes or curling irons can be strongly indicative of physical abuse especially when combined with a child’s description of how the injury was inflicted. Another strong indicator of child abuse is an explanation for injuries that would be unusual in a given age group. For example, a broken arm or leg in a four-month old child is blamed on a fall down the stairs.

Neglect can be indicated by a child who is chronically dirty or dressed inappropriately for the weather, a child who is frequently hungry or sleepy and reports being unable to eat or sleep regularly at home, a child who does not attend school regularly or one who has not been enrolled in school, a child who remains untreated or is treated inappropriately for a medical problem or a child who describes being left alone and unable to care for himself.

A good indicator of endangerment is a description by a child of events that may place him in danger such as being involved in a physical, domestic fight between adults in the home, seeing illegal drugs being used or sold or having access to loaded guns kept in the home.

Why should I report child abuse? Top of page

The most important reason to report child abuse is to protect the child from further abuse. Children have few resources for changing the circumstances of their lives and children who are being hurt by their caretakers rely on the intervention of others to protect them. Reporting abuse is also a way to ensure that parents who need help but are not able to ask for it are offered parenting resources.

I'm not sure if the situation is serious enough to report. Top of page

Describe the situation to child protection or the police. Remember that often the most serious abuse occurs in private and away from anyone but the children involved. What you have seen or heard may be only the tip of the iceberg.

As a parent, what can I do to prevent child abuse? Top of page

  • Image of a child hugging a womanPractice disciplining your children in a calm, thoughtful way. Give yourself time to cool off rather than punishing in anger. Show your children ways that conflicts can be resolved with words rather than hitting or hurting.
  • Talk with your children every day and listen carefully to what they say about their lives. Be alert to changes in their behavior or emotions and talk calmly with them if you are concerned.
  • Teach your children that their bodies are their own and that they can say no to touches that feel bad or confusing. Talk with them about privacy to help them learn good boundaries and reassure them that it is ok to say no to things that violate their privacy – even if they are saying no to an adult.
  • Teach your children to tell you if they are approached, talked to or touched in a way that hurts, scares or confuses them. Reassure them that you will not be angry with them, but want to help them stay safe.
  • Help your children think about what they would do if something confusing or scary happened to them. Talk about different scenarios or play the “what if” game. This will help them identify ways to help themselves be safe and to think about the adults they can turn to for help in different places such as school, the park, the library, and church.

Where can I learn more about child abuse? Top of page

If you would like more information about recognizing and reporting child abuse, please call the San Jose Police Department, Family Violence Unit at (408) 277-3700 between the hours of 8:00 am and 5:00 p.m. The receptionist will connect you with a child abuse investigator.

For more information on the web, here are links to several sites with resources for parents, teachers and anyone interested in preventing child abuse.

  • Local Child Abuse Council 1-800-4-A-CHILD
  • Center for Child Protection 1-408-885-6460

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