Details of the Law
Recent news stories remind us why it’s so important to understand and review the Mandatory Child Abuse Reporting Laws in the State of Utah. Unfortunately, the events of these cases remind us how possible it is for well-intentioned adults to fail their legal obligation out of ignorance of the law or confusion about to whom they should report to.
Utah’s Child Abuse Reporting Law requires, “any person who has reason to believe that a child has been subjected to abuse, or neglect to immediately notify the nearest office of Child and Family Services, a peace officer, or a law enforcement agency”. Utah’s child abuse reporting hotline is 1(855) 323-3237
Abuse can be physical, emotional, or sexual. It’s crucial for Teachers, Administrators, Counselors, Doctors, Coaches, Clergy, and other adults working with youth to understand the specifics of this very important law. Remember the following:
1. YOU Must Report
If a child reports something to you, then YOU must make the report to the Division of Child and Family Services (DCFS). You cannot report to a supervisor and have the supervisor determine if you should call DCFS. If you receive a disclosure of abuse or have reason to believe abuse is occuring, make the call yourself. Clinical professionals at DCFS are trained to receive and evaluate reports of child abuse. They know how to work through legal channels to determine how to investigate reports. Once a report is made, DCFS becomes legally responsible for handling the case in an ethical way.
2. You may know the abuser
90% of the time, a child is abused by someone within their circle of trust. This means that the abuser is often a family member or close family friend. Unfortunately this may mean that the abuser is in YOUR circle of trust. The urge to protect and shield a friend or acquaintance from consequences is understandable. But it is your responsibility as a mandated reporter to make the call. Children can only heal once abuse is stopped and they are connected to help. This is why reporting is so important.
3. Collect the child’s information
DCFS requires at least these three pieces of information to open and investigate a case:
- The child’s first and last name
- The child’s location where they can be found (such as school, daycare, or a home address)
- Details of the abuse
4. Reports are confidential
All reports to DCFS are confidential, meaning they won’t disclose who made the report. You can also report anonymously if you wish.
5. Utah has a “Good Faith Clause”
If you report the abuse and DCFS investigates and finds that nothing happened, you cannot be held accountable in a court of law. Even if you are unsure if something would qualify as abuse, you can still report. It is DCFS’s job to determine if something is abuse, and it is your job to report it.
6. Follow the ABCDs of Disclosures
- Assure the child that they did the right thing by talking to you. It takes a great deal of bravery for a child to report abuse. Especially if their abuser threatened or manipulated them to keep quiet. Remind the child that the abuse wasn’t their fault and that you’ll do everything you can to help them.
- Believe the child. Children rarely lie about child abuse. Be Calm. Receiving a disclosure of abuse about someone you know can be overwhelming. But expressing shock, anger, or panic can scare a child or cause them to retract their story. Stay as calm as possible so the child feels safe and able to share.
- Let the Child Talk. When a child reports, ask open-ended questions and statements. Let them tell you about their experience in their own words. Statements and questions like “Tell me more about that”, “What did you mean by this?”, or “What happened next?” work best. Do not ask leading questions. These questions can alter a child’s memory or encourage them to change their answers. This can cause future tellings to sound “coached” and could be detrimental if the case goes to court.
- Determine the child’s immediate needs. If a child is in immediate danger or if you witness the abuse, call 911. Otherwise, call the Child Abuse Hotline at 1(855) 323-3237 to report all suspicions and disclosures of child abuse.
Protect Children, Report Abuse
Keeping children safe is the responsibility of the entire community. Kids are resilient. They can and do heal from abuse, but they can only do so if we advocate for them by reporting. An adult who reports abuse can make all the difference in the life of an abused child. By reporting child abuse, we ensure that children are connected to the resources and support they need to heal.
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