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Recognizing and Reporting



Q: What should I do if I suspect that a child is being abused or neglected?

A: Each of us in the community needs to make a commitment to report suspected child abuse and neglect. In North Dakota, reports are made to Child Protection Services (CPS) through local County Social Service offices. Reports can be made by phone -- or by printing, downloading, and mailing the "Report of Suspected Child Abuse and Neglect" 960 form.


Q: Why should I make a report when I think a child might be abused or neglected?

A: Reporting abuse could save a life. Unfortunately, children die every day from injuries caused by child abuse. Often, someone was aware of the abuse but didn’t report it.

Families in which there is abuse need help. Reporting abuse can help connect families with counseling and services. This may help relieve a family’s stress – and prevent future abuse.

The cycle of abuse can be stopped. Victims/survivors of abuse who receive counseling and treatment are less likely to become abusive or have other struggles as they grow up.


Q: But what if I’m wrong?

A: In North Dakota and in many other states, it isn’t the responsibility of the person making the report to prove the abuse.


Q: Do I have legal protection when I report a suspected case of child abuse or neglect?

A: Yes, the law protects the person making the report. Those who report in good faith are generally granted immunity from civil and criminal court action, even if the report ends up being mistaken or cannot be proven. Knowingly making a false report with malicious intent, however, is a crime.


Q: What does “good faith” mean?

A: “Good faith” is an honest belief; in this case, it's an honest belief that a child is or has been abused or neglected.


Q: How sure must I be before I report?

A: North Dakota laws require that an individual have reasonable cause to suspect that a child is being abused or neglected. If any of us has a serious concern about the safety of a child, we should make a report. Reporting laws do not require proof; proof is established by the authorities.


Q: What will happen after a report is made?

A: Child Protection Services (CPS) is required to notify law enforcement and coordinate any intervention. Generally, reports of suspected child abuse are assigned to a social worker who will conduct:

  • a safety assessment to determine the threat of immediate harm to children and the necessary steps to protect them;
  • a risk assessment to estimate the possibility of future abuse or neglect; and
  • a family strengths/needs assessment to help determine the need for services.


Q: Will a child be removed from the home as a result of the report?

A: Unless a child is in danger and cannot be protected in the home, the goal of Child Protection Services is to keep a family together. If a child is in immediate danger, the child may be placed in protective custody by the court. Children may be placed in temporary protective custody or shelter care only by order of the court. Police officers and physicians also have limited authority to take emergency custody of children in immediate danger.

Source: Child Abuse & Neglect: Should I Report This?, ND Department of Human Services, Children and Family Services Division, Child Protection Services.


Q: Are those who abuse usually prosecuted and convicted?

A: It depends. Often, the goal is to help the person who did the abusing to break the cycle of abuse, so the family can stay together. In some cases, the person abusing may face criminal charges. The county state’s attorney’s office will decide whether to prosecute the case, but there are factors that make prosecution and conviction more likely:

  • admission of guilt by the perpetrator
  • covert recording of admission of guilt
  • DNA evidence
  • medical findings upon examination of the victim
  • an eye witness
  • corroborating evidence (such as the police finding a item the victim described as being used during the abuse)

Sources: North Dakota Attorney General’s Office; You Can Help Prevent Child Abuse, Prevent Child Abuse America Publications.


Q: I reported abuse, and nothing happened. What else can I do?

A: When we make a report, we still may not have the legal right to know what steps were taken to protect the child. If we are still concerned about the child, we can help in other ways:

  • Talk to the child’s teacher, a school counselor, or leader of the family’s faith community. They may be in a position to reach out to the family.
  • Offer support to the family if it’s appropriate; offer to help with child care, chores, or other needs.
  • Be kind and supportive to any child, especially those who may be abused or neglected at home.
  • Keep reporting until the situation is resolved.

Source: You Can Help Prevent Child Abuse, Prevent Child Abuse America Publications.