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Reporting Abuse

Reporting child abuse, neglect, or other maltreatment: 

It is estimated that five children die each day in this country as a result of child maltreatment (such as abuse, neglect, exploitation, or abandonment). In California, many professionals and volunteers who work with children are considered Mandated Reporters, which means they are required by law to promptly report known or suspected child maltreatment. Other citizens, though not required to report, are encouraged to do so.

What is child maltreatment?

Child maltreatment occurs when children are victims of (or at risk of) abuse, neglect, exploitation, or parental absence, inflicted by an adult who has responsibility for the child. For example, when a child is:

  • physically injured by other than accidental means.

  • subjected to willful cruelty or unjustifiable punishment.

  • abused or exploited sexually.

  • neglected by a parent or caretaker who fails to provide adequate food, clothing, shelter, medical care or supervision.

​You don't have to know for certain that something meets a legal definition of maltreatment: that's the investigator's job. If in doubt, report. More information about identifying, understanding, and reporting child maltreatment is available from the California Department of Social Services here and the federal Child Welfare Information Gateway here.

Am I a mandated reporter?

Many professionals and volunteers who work with children are considered mandated reporters, which means they are required by law to promptly report suspected child maltreatment. Mandated reporters include school personnel, child care providers, medical professionals, mental and school health professionals, law enforcement, clergy, and volunteers. Learn more about who is a mandated reporter here. Find out about training available for mandated reporters here.

How to report child maltreatment

For mandated reporters only

  1. Report it: Immediately call the Santa Barbara County Child Welfare Services (CWS) Hotline at (800) 367-0166 to report. In case of emergency, call 911.

  2. Document it: Follow up by completing and filing a Suspected Child Abuse Report, Form #SS8572. The SCAR form and instructions are available here. Retain a legible copy of the SCAR Report.

  3. Own it: You are responsible for making this report. Do not allow your supervisor/principal to make the report for you, or assume that another co-worker will make the report because they have some of the same information.

  4. Move on: Do not attempt to investigate, conduct interviews or interfere with the information you hold.

Remember that you are to report suspected abuse—you are not required to have witnessed or have complete proof of the incident. You are obligated by law to report what you observe or what you are told that caused suspicion the child is being physically, sexually or emotionally abused or neglected. When in doubt, call CWS or law enforcement and get their input about the scope of your report.

For everyone else

Call the Santa Barbara County CWS Hotline at (800) 367-0166 to report. In case of emergency, call 911.

What happens after I report?

Santa Barbara County Child Welfare Services (CWS) will conduct a risk assessment taking numerous factors into account. The speed of the response will depend on the level of imminent danger. After investigations are complete, CWS will contact you in writing to let you know whether your report was deemed Substantiated, Inconclusive, or Unfounded. (This may take some time due to pending investigations and/or court actions.)

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