What Happens When You Report Someone to Social Services?

Updated on April 17, 2018

Reporting Someone to Social Services

Every year more than 3.6 million referrals are made to child protection agencies involving more than 6.6 million children (a referral can include multiple children). And less than half of child abuse cases will never be reported because neighbors, friends, and relatives are often too nervous or afraid to contact social services and stop the abuse. Some worry they will break the family apart, especially if they are wrong, while others fear retaliation from the abuser.

The reality is just the opposite:

  • Reporting someone to social services is nothing to fear. The individual you report will never know that you are the one who made the call.
  • Further, social services will not take any action against the person you report if they find no evidence of abuse or neglect. In fact, the report and the ensuing investigation will never become a part of the individual’s record.
  • Likewise, social services will never remove a child from the home if your suspicions were incorrect.

On the other hand, if you are correct about the abuse, you could help save a child’s life. So, don't fear. In this article, learn about what happens when it comes to reporting someone to social services, which includes the:

  • report
  • investigation
  • outcome
  • your identity
  • your liability


This article is meant to give you a detailed look at what happens after you report someone to social services. However, please remember that laws vary state to state, so it's important to look into your state's laws.

Filing a Social Services Report

  1. Connecting with a dispatcher: When you first contact social services, you will be connected with a dispatcher, who is only trained in accepting reports. They will not be able to investigate the matter themselves nor provide you with any specific information. However, the dispatcher can tell you how the investigation will be conducted, what they usually do next, and what else you can do to help. However, they cannot share private information about the matter with you.
  2. Gathering contact information: The dispatcher will ask you for your name, your telephone number, and your location. If you would rather make an anonymous report, you can state as such or you can provide an alias or false name. However, regardless of the name you provide, you should provide a working telephone number—this will allow social services to contact you again if they need any additional information to help them investigate your report. If you absolutely cannot give your telephone number, then offer an e-mail address instead.
  3. Information about the abuse in question: After gathering your contact information, the dispatcher will then ask you about the abuse you want to report. They will ask you for the victim’s name, age, date of birth, and physical address. If you know where the victim goes to school or works, give this information as well. The dispatcher will then ask for the abuser’s name, age, address, place of work, and a physical description. If the parents are not the abusers, the dispatcher will also ask for the parents’ information.

Provide as much information as you can, even if you think what you know is irrelevant. The more information you offer, the better chance social services has to stop the abuser. Conversely, if you do not know much about the situation, then provide what little information you have. Social services will do their best to fill in the rest.

The Social Services Investigation

  1. Assigning a caseworker: After receiving your report, a caseworker will be assigned to investigate your suspicions. Most agencies investigate reports of child abuse and neglect within 24 to 72 hours (depending on state laws). However, this may vary depending on when you made the report, the severity of the abuse, and the individual agency’s caseload.
  2. The caseworker's investigation: The caseworker will visit the victim’s home first, and if possible, speak with the victim alone. The caseworker may also conduct a walk-through of the victim’s residence to ensure the child is receiving the proper care. Afterwards, the caseworker will visit with and interview the alleged abuser and the parents if they are not one in the same.
  3. Imminent danger will be determined. If the caseworker believes the victim is in imminent danger and the victim is living with the abuser, the caseworker may remove the victim from the residence immediately. If the victim is a minor child, the child may be temporarily placed with other relatives or put into foster care until the investigation concludes. If no imminent danger is apparent, the caseworker will not do anything at that time.

The Outcome of a Social Services Investigation

  1. A determination by the agency: After completing the initial investigation, the caseworker will discuss their findings with their superior, and the two will work together to decide if abuse is apparent and what should happen next. The caseworker may return for another, more thorough investigation if social services determine this is necessary.
  2. If social services believe there is no abuse: If social services determine that no abuse took place, nothing will happen to the family. The caseworker may visit once more for a quick interview, or they may not visit again at all. The family will then receive a letter clearing them from any wrongdoing, and social services will officially close the matter. The report and ensuing investigation will not become a part of the alleged abuser’s criminal record.
  3. If social services believe there is abuse: If social services believe that abuse did occur, then the agency will take steps to correct the situation.
  • In less severe cases, the caseworker may offer counseling, training, and other family support services to the abuser.
  • In more severe cases, the victim may be removed on a more longterm—but still temporary—basis until the abuser can demonstrate that they are fit to regain custody or guardianship again. Remember that the goal for social services is to keep families together, but they have a legal responsibility to protect children from neglect and abuse.
  • In the most critical cases, the abuser may be arrested and charged for the abuse, and the victim may be permanently removed from the abuser’s care. If this happens, the victim may be placed in long-term foster care, put under the guardianship of another relative, or placed for adoption.

Your Identity During a Social Services Investigation

  • Your identity will remain protected. No one other than social services will ever know you are the one who made the report. The dispatcher and the caseworker are the only ones who will likely know your name and will not release it to the abuser, the victim, or anyone else.
  • Your report will also be protected. Social services also won’t divulge the contents of your report if they aren't required to by law (again, in rare circumstances, this will happen), so there is little possibility that anyone will be able to trace the report back to you. The only way anyone other than social services will know you made the report is if you tell them yourself.

Your Liability If You Make a Social Services Report

  • No liability if made in good faith: Regardless of the outcome, all 50 states exempt individuals who report abuse from any civil or criminal liability, even if your suspicions prove wrong, provided you made the report in good faith. This means that you truly believed that there was ongoing abuse, or you truly suspected that abuse might have occurred. You will never face criminal prosecution for reporting someone to social services because you were mistaken.
  • Liability possible if you had a malicious intent: However, if you knowingly make a false report to social services, particularly if you did so to harass or intimidate the accused, you could be charged with a crime. If you make numerous false reports, social services can release your name to the person you report and that person can file a civil lawsuit against you for compensation. The key point here is that you knew you were making a false report and you did so for a malicious reason.

Does Social Services Investigate Every Case?

Once a report is made, social services will decide whether or not to follow up on it. This is why it's extremely important to be as detailed as possible when filing a report. If a report is "screened out," no further investigation will take place. Here are the possible reasons why a report may be screened out:

  • There's not enough information to warrant an investigation.
  • Social services or the police believe the information is false or inaccurate
  • The information provided doesn't meet the definition of child abuse or neglect.

As an example, the Los Angeles child abuse hotline alone averages one call every 2.4 minutes and is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. In 2017, between 30 and 35 percent of hotline calls of abuse were “screened in” or investigated.

When Should You Report Someone to Social Services?

If you witness a child in immediate danger or believe they are at risk of serious harm, call the police, who will be able to respond much quicker than social services.

You should call social services anytime you suspect abuse or neglect, even if you aren't completely sure. It's easy to second guess yourself and worry that your suspicions are wrong. However, remember that it's the agency's job to determine if a report should be investigated, not yours.

"An obvious example would be a child who is being physically abused by a violent caretaker. A not so obvious example could include a child with loving parents, but [who is] suffering from malnutrition or other health problems simply because the parents do not know anything about nutrition or the basics of healthcare," says Matt Pinsker, an attorney who has worked with social services on multiple cases.

Pinsker also says that people are sometimes hesitant to call because they are worried about breaking up a family or have had a bad run-in with the agency in the past.

Here are the federal guidelines for defining abuse and neglect according to Do Right by Kids:

  • Physical abuse: "Physical abuse occurs when a parent (or person legally responsible) commits a physical act (i.e. punching, beating, shaking, throwing, kicking, biting, burning) which causes serious physical injury to a child. Although the injury is not an accident, the parent or caretaker may not have intended to hurt the child."
  • Neglect: "Neglect occurs when a parent (or person legally responsible) fails to provide a minimum level of care by doing something that inflicts harm, allows harm to be inflicted, or creates an imminent danger of harm. The harm, however, does not result in the kind of serious physical injury that is defined as physical abuse."

However, it's worth mentioning that the guidelines for abuse can vary by state and aren't necessarily agreed upon by everyone. If you truly believe a child is being abused or neglected, it's better to err on the side of caution and call in the report.

What Is a Mandated Reporter?

Anyone can report someone to child services, but a mandated reporter is someone who, because of their profession, is required by law to report any suspicion of child abuse or neglect to the relevant authorities.

Who is classified as a mandated reporter varies from state to state, but it usually includes social workers, teachers, health care workers, and mental health professionals. However, some states legally require all citizens to report abuse or neglect.

If you are a mandated reporter who has reasonable suspicions that a child is being abused or neglected, it's important that you call social services.

Again, it's important to remember that laws vary by state, so you should always look into your state's laws if you have any questions or concerns about the process.

Here's the national hotline number to report any abuse. The site also links to a list of local numbers.


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    • profile image

      Worried 8 days ago

      If I know of a child that is living with a child preater show I report it

    • profile image

      Carwyn 3 weeks ago

      My family keeps intervening with my life and I have told them this is my house not yours and I walk out and apparently they can report me

    • profile image

      Robin 5 weeks ago

      I have had a social worker since late fall 2008 (i was 14), due to abuse...I lost her card, days or weeks later..I think I remember her name, but I don't know her age or if she is still a social worker...

      how would I be able to contact her? I am not angry nor disappointed with her or CPS. I live in California. I have moved from the county that she works in another county, just north of it.

      I am now 24 years old and looking to let her know that I am not angry with her, that I am at peace with what happened, even though the abuse is still ongoing. (mostly mental/emotional/psychological)

      Thank you!

    • profile image

      zarina michaels 5 weeks ago

      Hi i have been in the system for most of my life and was wondering who reported my parents and would i be able to find out the name or would it still be confidential?

    • profile image

      Sandra 6 weeks ago

      help someone's trying to hurt me what do i do

    • profile image

      JASON 6 weeks ago

      Would you call if you knew that your ex was letting your daugther smoke pot and had a recording of it.

    • profile image

      Anonymous 7 weeks ago

      Who would I contact if I feel that a child abuse case was not handled properly by the case worker

    • profile image

      Anonymous 8 weeks ago

      Hi could u let me know if my social services reports from 13 years ago be shown to my ex partners girlfriend could u please let me now because she is saying she have read them all they have only been together for 2 years many thanks.

    • profile image

      katie curic 2 months ago

      kila manila you are absolutally right about that my friend is spending 5 years in prison for making false statements to cps and other state agencies because her neighbor royaly pissed her off and she thought she would get even with the person after the investigations were done they had sherrifs come to her house and arrest her for making false reports and they released her name to the neighbor which then sued her for a whopping 300 grand which she doesnt even have!

    • profile image

      kilamanila 2 months ago

      if you report someone to cps and have a neighbor conflict going on and use the government by means to maliciously harras a family by way of threatening to take their children out of the home can go to jail for wasting tax payer resources and filing a false report you may o be sued by the person you turned into cps for damages

    • profile image

      Annoymous 2 months ago

      My daughter ex mother in law called cps they interviewed my grandson at school n we didn't know tell cps called n told my daughter they did n they was guna call back to schedule to speak to her...but when the incident happen cps came that same day...can ya tell me if everything guna be ok...

    • profile image

      Bill 3 months ago

      I was harrassed by someone in my neighborhood and they used DCS as a scare tactic. I am single and have no children, and yet they had a social worker come to my house. The reporter was smart in that they reported it by mailing an anonymous letter so they could not be traced at all. I have no idea who detests me this much to go to this type of effort. But the police are on MY side and notified DCS that they were duped by the reporter.

    • profile image

      vinny 3 months ago

      I currently have a guy harassing my family by making false reports to DCS and there seems to be nothing that can be done about it. The funny thing is, the guy did help me get free child care for a year!

    • profile image

      Mary 3 months ago

      Don't bother with CSP - they have ignored facts, physical marks, phone calls , blatant sexualized behavior and comments from a 3 year old.. now 5. Developmentally delayed , unable to " tell " the courts , crisis center stated there was no abuse. Just unknown?!

      CPS refuses to see child in ER now when brought to be checked for Mark's , concerned family labeled overzealous.

      The child repeatedly placed in harm's way lives w mom/ husband abused teens in 1 bedroom apt. Exposed to guns, drugs illegal , illicit activity And that is of NO concern to CPS or the court ...

      It will become a concern when it hits the newspaper when another child dies

    • profile image

      Clyde 4 months ago

      what is the recourse or outcome if the abuser or person that was turned in to cps threatens someone he suspects turned him in?

    • profile image

      Anonymous 4 months ago

      Can neglect/abuse towards children be considered if you are a single father of 2 boys and 1 girl but you are living in a remodeled garage that is basically like a studio apartment. It does have a closed off bathroom but everything else is open. There is no kitchen sink just a stove and microwave. The father lately has also been having his adult nephew stay with him. The nephew sleeps on the couch, the 2 boys have their bed and the daughter is sleeping in the same bed as the father. He always has dirty laundry and dishes throughout the home. Would this be enough to be considered abuse/neglect?

    • profile image

      B Rickman 4 months ago

      I am concerned about the welfare of my grand daughter. My daughter has been acting very bizarre for quite a while. She has even been telling people I threatened to murder her husband. Which, of course, I did not. She acts like someone that has been brainwashed and even though she was always a strong willed person I feel her husband is the cause of all of this. There is much diagnosed mental illness in his family. Paranoid schizophrenics, addictive personalities, alcohol and when he was very young, abusive treatment from his mother. He appears to have a split personality himself. Like Jekyll and Hyde. I am so afraid for my 22 month old grand daughter. My daughters behavior is so unlike her. What can I do about this?

    • profile image

      Saina 4 months ago

      To the previous anon, yes, you can. Under federal law that is not only potentially an exposing a child to sexual material and indecent exposure to a minor charge, but also child endangerment. It also is a drug charge and prostitution. Even just one of those is enough for you to have your children removed.

    • profile image

      Anon 4 months ago

      Can you report someone who's got three children under the age of 11 living with them while they're smoking weed and using their home bro have sex with ramdon men for money on a daily basis? Surly this can't be allowed when you've got children living in the same hime your inviting strange men into your home? Poor children have watched their mother get with bloke after bloke and most of them are violent towards the mother.

    • profile image

      Will a drug test be performed is the parent is on drugs 4 months ago

      She’s on drugs taking care of a one year old. Will she be tested if reported

    • profile image

      Anonymous 4 months ago

      If someone called CPS on someone who they thought the parents were doing wrong and the CPS worker didn't find anything and the mother who is very upset knows someone who is in charge of the system. Are they legally aloud to have their friend/family investigate the matter and release the persons phone number to the mother even though the caller remained Anonymous. Didn't give a name or phone number. What could happen?

    • profile image

      Anonymous 4 months ago

      I have a mother who grabbed a garden hose and hit me with it she also grabbed a bottle of shampoo which was full and hit me with it until I sobbed she then pushed the hose into my face. She grabbed my hair and hit my head black. With one swift motion she slapped me in the back of the neck. I’m terrified to call child services help.

    • profile image

      Annie 4 months ago

      How Can I report a social worker who has a drug dealer living in her home and she goes to s el drugs with him

    • profile image

      Cliff Mcgeough 4 months ago

      How could u help my girlfriend stop bulling and swearing and useing my kids like dogs

    • profile image

      Bryony allen 5 months ago

      Hi I’m bryony I’m only 21 and I keep on getting hurt and they think that social services won’t do anything to protect me

    • profile image

      Daniel 5 months ago

      My mom keeps yelling and yelling she hit me ones and tells to go die and that I was a mistake

    • profile image

      Miss class 5 months ago

      I knowas stuff bout a mother selling taking heroin selling taking heroin... they literally fight! She thinknows she's a good mum! I've witnessed different! She swears at her mum tell her to shut up in find it appalling! What do I do??

    • profile image

      Mrs stone 6 months ago

      Hey I am a bit worried about a man that keeps having a young boy stopping at his bedsit with him I find it a little odd they my be nothing to it but it need checking out this is happening at 7 chapel close birdwell barnsley s70 5ul

    • profile image

      Terry Walters 6 months ago

      Hi if I knownof someone who is using illegal drugs and has three children can I report them. I love in Florida and honestly do not know much if any personal information about the women herself or anything about her children. I only know she is abusing drugs, is there anything I can do to at least report her and maybe have someone look into it!? Thanks

    • profile image

      John 7 months ago

      What about parents/legal guardians using/being under the influence of drugs in front of small children? Can this be reported? How can someone that is high be responsible for children?

    • profile image

      Louise 7 months ago

      How do u report someone for having there child around a violent, drug taker , and abuser

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 months ago

      Is it ok for the kids between 5-10 years old play by themselves on the street without parents supervision?I think it is to dangerous and illegal .Am I right?

    • profile image

      Anonymous 7 months ago

      I'm concerned for my nephew as he is always scared as my sister has loads of men in and out her life and he's scared of them she takes coke at least once a week she drinks during school time and is always in the pub the drinks and smokes cannabis in the house while he's awake and asleep I need to get the number to contact the social services x

    • profile image

      Kiera 7 months ago

      Can i report abuse or will i have someone come after me

    • profile image

      Stymie 8 months ago

      What happens if CPS tells the person under investigation who reported them?

    • profile image

      a.s 8 months ago

      I am worried about my neighbors kids. There is illicit, drug abuse, dealing, sales, manufacturing of marajauna, meth, crack, pills. drug sales to make money. the house is dirty and has a foul odor.

    • profile image

      Lies they will know it was you thst reported. 8 months ago

      Your identity remains protected. Regardless of the outcome, no one other than social services will ever know you are the one who made the report. The dispatcher and the caseworker are the only ones who will know your name, and will not release it to the abuser, the victim or anyone else.

      Your report will also be protected. Social services also won’t divulge the contents of your report, so there is no possibility that anyone will be able to trace the report back to you. The only way anyone other than social services will know you made the report is if you tell them yourself.

      Bul shut if you tell the person will know it s you make sure

    • profile image

      concerned 9 months ago

      I attempted to report a child I knew was being neglected and at risk. I discussed reporting the case a number of times with various professionals who work with children before going ahead and reporting the matter like I was encouraged to. I was shocked with the outcome. The duty care worker was very aggressive, argumentative and had an awful attitude. I was really shocked that someone who is supposed to want to protect children would be so rude to someone that is concerned about a child's welfare. She made me feel as if I was in the wrong for reporting the incident and didn't want to know about my concerns.

    • profile image

      9 months ago

      i made a report a couple of weeks ago about a customer i had concerns about thinking it was in confidence, anyway they told the person exactly word for word what i said making it obvious who reported him, hes currently making my life a misery attempting to ruin my business. he had the cheek to ring me just to let me know he was starting a personal vendetta! id do it again given the same circumstance as it was regarding the wellfare of a child but im totally disgusted with the way social services handled it

    • profile image

      Lisa 10 months ago

      Can you find out who did report if they remain anonymous. As some one made a malicious report against me made me physically ill.

    • profile image

      martin 12 months ago

      I have reported somebody on the basis of abuse. I saw a mother brutally kicking her child in the back upon taking her to school. I had observed for many days the mother uncontrollably shouting at her daughter and decided enough was enough. I reported to the school first, but i felt so sorry for the child

    • profile image

      Sam 12 months ago

      Can social services send the anonymous call to the person who you call about

    • profile image

      david turner 13 months ago

      some inner city boroughs were investigated in london last year as organisations claiming to specialise in mainstream adult care were getting very high amounts of financial contributions from social services and doing the bare minimum. some had to shut down and some continued on less money!

    • profile image

      15 months ago

      Why do they take the mothers side right away? What if its the mother is hurting the kids? What if the father is trying to stop it but cant cause Social Services is not taking him seriously. not even after the child comes home with a black eye cuts on her face scared to go back to her mother. No child deserves that but Social Services is taking her side what the hell is wrong with that? 10 year old little girl does not need her mother beating her for not taking care of her brother right and or not cleaning her room, she's ten years old. she complains to a teacher, teacher call social services, doing her job as a teacher. Social Services goes on holiday noone to help... good thing you're looking out for the children. 8 days latter child come back with a black eye cuts on her face. Not impressed at all. Someone needs a new job. I am so upset about all of this and it's not even my child. Top it all off the mother has mental issues,it's documented talk to the doctors. talk to her sisters. her sisters work for children services what the hell is she doing? nothing. Maybe she should get a new job!!!!!!

    • profile image

      debra 2 years ago

      Please dont be afraid to Report any kind of Abuse these Children neeed us to Save Them. They Count on us Adults. Be Strong for the Children. U Would want the Same for Your Loved One.

    • profile image

      Anon 3 years ago

      I'm only 16 and I'm not sure if I make a report it would go through. I love my niece and nephew so much and only wish them the best but the mom is the worst. She's always screaming at them cause to her it's the only way they'll listen. This screaming soon turned into cussing and hitting and my brother, well where to start. He's such a drunk and I know these kids are in danger so bad cause if the alcoholic dad they have and the mom they have too. I don't know what to do and im scared they'll find out I reported it. I don't know what to do, I don't wanna tear my family a part but I also don't want my niece and nephew living in such fear

    • profile image

      iluvmychild 3 years ago

      Have you tried telling someone at the school? There is a social worker at the school. I hope all works out. Very concerned

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      john doe 3 years ago

      In the UK if i have asked to remain anonymous and have since making the report about a friend of mine I had real concerns for regarding their mental health and welbeing I have phoned back and had my name and details removed from the complaint forms but can my friend still find out it was me in anyway because I don't want to lose a friendship I'm just concerned about her and don't know how else to help her. But after seeing these posts in now regretting making the complaint as I think its going to cause a lot of backlash between us...any advice please people?

    • profile image

      Worried 4 years ago

      My friend has gotten her kids back, but it seems that she still doesn't care for them at all. They still don't take showers, she makes the oldest one take care of all her younger children. Her drug addict husband still comes around even though he's not allowed to see her kids she still bring him around. I dont know who to call.

    • profile image

      NewYork2013 4 years ago

      I am thinking about reporting somebody too, but I worry that if they disclose the content to the parents, they can figure out who I am and retaliate. It seems like "confidential" is not really confidential which is a major flaw to the system.

    • profile image

      theress 4 years ago

      Will social services ever divulge the name of the person who reported the incident at all, is this true