Reporting Child Abuse in WV
At SHIELD, we believe everyone has a role to play in ending child abuse. One of the most important things you can do to protect children is to report suspected abuse and neglect to DHHR by calling the centralized intake hotline: 1-800-352-6513.
We know people have lots of questions about when and how to report abuse in West Virginia, as well as what happens after a report is made. With that in mind, we’ve put together answers to a few frequently asked questions.
If you have questions that aren’t answered here, feel free to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org so we can update our list.
What is a mandatory reporter?
A mandatory reporter, or mandated reporter, is someone who is required by law to report reasonable suspicions of child abuse or neglect to DHHR. Who exactly qualifies as a mandatory reporter may vary from state to state. However, in general, mandatory reporters are people who have regular contact with children in a professional capacity — such as teachers, therapists, daycare workers, doctors, social workers, church volunteers, and coaches.
While everyone is encouraged to report suspicions of abuse to DHHR, mandatory reporters are required to do so.
Who qualifies as a mandatory reporter?
Under WV Code §49-2-803, most people who work with children are mandatory reporters and must report all reasonable suspicions of child abuse or neglect to DHHR within 24 hours. This includes:
Medical, dental, and mental health professionals.
Christian Science practitioners.
School teachers and other school personnel.
Social service workers.
Child care workers.
Foster care workers.
Emergency medical services personnel.
Peace officers and law-enforcement officials.
Members of the clergy.
Circuit court and family court judges.
Employees of the Division of Juvenile Services.
Youth camp administrators and counselors.
Employees, coaches, and volunteers of an entity that provides organized activities for children.
Commercial film or photographic print processors.
What if I tell my supervisor? Do I still need to call DHHR?
In short — yes. WV Code §49-2-803 requires that mandatory reporters notify the administration of their organizations as well as DHHR. Reporting to a supervisor or school administrator DOES NOT fulfill your legal duty as a mandatory reporter. You must file a direct report by calling the WV Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline at 1-800-352-6513.
Specifically, the code states: “Any person required to report under this article who is a member of the staff or volunteer of a public or private institution, school, entity that provides organized activities for children, facility, or agency shall also immediately notify the person in charge of the institution, school, entity that provides organized activities for children, facility, or agency, or a designated agent thereof, who may supplement the report or cause an additional report to be made: Provided, That notifying a person in charge, supervisor, or superior does not exempt a person from his or her mandate to report suspected abuse or neglect.”
Should I call the police?
If you believe a child is in immediate danger, then you should call 911 as you would with any emergency.
Also, WV law requires mandatory reporters to report to both DHHR and law enforcement “in any case where the reporter believes that the child suffered serious physical abuse or sexual abuse or sexual assault.” If a case meets that criteria, you must report to WV State Police as well as any other law enforcement agency that has jurisdiction to investigate the complaint, such as your local police department or sheriff. You must report to law enforcement in addition to — not instead of — reporting to DHHR.
What counts as a “reasonable suspicion?” How sure do I need to be?
Many people think they must be 100% sure that abuse has occurred before making a report or that they can only report abuse they have personally witnessed or verified. In reality, WV law requires mandatory reporters to notify DHHR of any reasonable suspicions of abuse or neglect.
If you have any reason at all to suspect a child is being or has been abused or neglected, make a report. You do not need to be absolutely sure, and you do not need to have concrete proof. It is not your job to investigate, prove your suspicions, or judge how credible a child’s disclosure is. Your job is to report suspected abuse immediately so that DHHR and law enforcement can do their jobs.
The code states that a mandatory reporter “who has reasonable cause to suspect that a child is neglected or abused, including sexual abuse or sexual assault, or observes the child being subjected to conditions that are likely to result in abuse or neglect” should immediately report the abuse to DHHR.
How long do I have to file a report?
WV Code § 49-2-803 requires mandatory reporters to contact DHHR immediately. Your report must be made no longer than 24 hours after suspecting the abuse or neglect. Remember that when a child’s safety is in question, every second counts.
What happens to a mandatory reporter who fails to report suspected abuse?
Failing to report even suspected abuse carries penalties of up to 90 days in jail and a $5,000 fine, per WV Code § 49-2-812. If the abuse is sexual, then the penalties increase to six months in jail and a $10,000 fine.
If I’m not a mandatory reporter, do I still need to report suspected abuse?
Although only mandatory reporters are required by law to report suspected abuse, everyone is encouraged to do so. You never know when you might be a child’s best or only hope for intervention. You may be in a position to notice things other people do not — especially if the child has been socially isolated or is too young to attend school.
WV Code § 49-2-803(c) states: “Nothing in this article is intended to prevent individuals from reporting suspected abuse or neglect on their own behalf. In addition to those persons and officials specifically required to report situations involving suspected abuse or neglect of children, any other person may make a report if that person has reasonable cause to suspect that a child has been abused or neglected in a home or institution or observes the child being subjected to conditions or circumstances that would reasonably result in abuse or neglect.”
We all have a role to play in ending child abuse. Learn the signs of abuse, and if you suspect a child is being abused, report it.
Why do I need to call? Shouldn’t the child’s teacher report the abuse?
Teachers do play a vital role in child abuse detection, prevention, and reporting. According to a study by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 52% of all identified child abuse cases classified as causing harm to the child are identified by school personnel. That means teachers and other school staff are responsible for recognizing and reporting more instances of child maltreatment than hospitals, police departments, and the general public combined.
However, that doesn’t mean we should assume teachers — or any other mandatory reporters — will report our suspicions for us. Making a report yourself is important for several reasons:
Not all children attend school. A child may be home schooled or too young to attend school. Often, parents who have had previous run-ins with CPS or who regularly abuse their children will “home school” their children to evade detection.
Just because teachers are mandatory reporters does not mean they are always diligent about reporting their suspicions.
You may notice something that a teacher might miss. For instance, you might see a bruise that will have faded or be covered up when a child goes to school. Or you might witness a parent being physically or verbally abusive to their child in a non-school setting — something a teacher would not be a position to witness.
Your call could lend further weight and urgency to a teacher’s report. When multiple reports are made, the alleged abuse may be investigated sooner or more thoroughly.
What if I don’t have any proof?
You do not need to have concrete proof to report suspected child abuse or neglect. In fact, if you wait until you have tangible evidence, you may be putting the child’s life in danger. Attempting to investigate an abuse allegation could tip off the abuser that trouble is coming. An abusive parent could decide to relocate abruptly or have time to build a story.
It’s always best to report suspected abuse immediately.
What if I didn’t personally witness the abuse?
You do not need to have personally witnessed the abuse in order to make a report. If a child tells you they have been abused or if you notice signs that could indicate abuse or neglect — such as unexplained injuries, poor hygiene, or an apparent lack of supervision — you should call the DHHR hotline. In some cases, you may hear about abuse or neglect from a child’s friend or a concerned peer. That, too, should be reported.
Will calling make things worse for the child?
You may be worried that if an abusive parent finds out that someone reported them to DHHR, they may take their anger out on their child. But remember that abused and neglected children are already suffering. Something else would have set their parent off eventually. Abusive parents will always find a reason to hurt their child.
You will not be sparing the child further abuse by refusing to report; you will only be delaying intervention and prolonging their suffering.
What if I’m wrong?
DHHR caseworkers investigate abuse allegations and separate them into the categories of “substantiated” or “unsubstantiated.” If you are wrong and the caseworker determines that no abuse is occurring or has occurred (or if the caseworker finds insufficient evidence), the case will be classified as “unsubstantiated.” No legal action would be taken against you for making a “false” report unless you did so knowingly and intentionally.
Can I report anonymously? Will the parents find out who reported them to DHHR?
Yes. When you call the DHHR hotline to report suspected abuse or neglect, you can choose to remain anonymous. Neither DHHR nor law enforcement will inform the parents of who made the report. In some cases, it may be possible for the parents to make an educated guess about who called DHHR — but a request for anonymity will be honored.
What information will the hotline ask for?
The hotline will ask for basic information about the child and the circumstances of the abuse or neglect. This includes:
Demographic information about the victim(s).
Type of abuse or neglect suspected.
Whether the victim is in imminent danger.
Location of the victim and caregivers.
Whether a protective caregiver is present.
Whether the alleged perpetrator still has access to the victim.
General functioning of victim and caregivers.
Any safety threats for first responders.
What happens after a report is made?
After a report has been made and “screened in” by DHHR Centrallized Intake (a determination that the report contains a suspicion or allegation of abuse, among other criteria), it will be forwarded to a local DHHR caseworker for investigation. The DHHR worker will decide whether to “substantiate” the case or “unsubstantiate” it, based on their investigation and the available evidence.
If a child is believed to be in imminent danger, the child may be removed from the home immediately and placed with a relative or into foster care while a more thorough investigation is conducted. The caseworker, often in tandem with law enforcement, will likely observe conditions of the home and interview relevant parties and family members.
Will I be informed if action is taken based on my report?
In some locations, a reporter may be informed that the report was assigned to a caseworker or that the report was “screened out” and not assigned.
What if nothing happens after my report? Should I call again?
If you make a report to DHHR and the child’s situation does not change, you are free to make additional reports.
Is there anything I can do if DHHR does not take action but I still believe the child is in danger?
If DHHR does not take action and you still believe the child is in danger, you can file additional reports — or you can contact law enforcement. If you believe the child is in immediate danger, please call 911.