Concerned woman on the phone

Deciding to call Child Protective Services on an acquaintance, friend or family member is a really difficult choice to make. There are guidelines, however, that can help you make this decision.

How to make this difficult decision

Each state has its own version of Child Protective Services, commonly referred to as CPS. But each department has the same goal — investigating reports of abuse, neglect and exploitation — and if they find evidence of these crimes, they step in and take measures to help the victims and prosecute those responsible.

CPS comes up in the news on occasion, however, for either not doing enough and the unthinkable happens, or doing too much and a child and her family are needlessly separated. How, then, do you know that reporting someone to CPS is the right thing to do?

Look for clues

Rayne Golay, mental health counselor, children’s advocate and award-winning author of a newly-published novel, The Wooden Chair, said that there are nonverbal cues that both caregivers and children give off that can indicate that a relationship isn’t a proper, nurturing one. Cringing, hiding and raising an arm defensively are warning signs that shouldn’t be ignored. There are also behavioral signals children give off when they are suffering from abuse or neglect, such as becoming withdrawn, experiencing a loss of appetite or suddenly doing poorly at school. Here is an excellent resource that can help you determine if abuse or neglect is taking place.

Dos and don’ts

Many times, those on the outside looking in don’t act because they worry about offending someone or causing another family undue stress that they don’t deserve. Also, most people assume the best of others — you don’t really want to think that people can treat their children this way. You don’t have to have concrete evidence, however, and some states actually have laws that require you to report suspected abuse or neglect. “We’re all very aware of child abuse and neglect, but still, most people continue to hang back and say or do nothing when they have concerns,” said Golay. “This is not acceptable. We all have a duty to keep our children safe.”

Don’t, however, call CPS if you don’t sincerely suspect abuse or neglect. Calling in a report is something that should be taken very seriously and never done out of spite.

Keep in mind that most states allow you to report a family to CPS anonymously, but even if you don’t stay anonymous, your name is typically not released to the family involved (check with your individual state laws). Most often, your name and contact information are retained so investigators can obtain additional details if needed. Of course, if there is an unfolding emergency, phone 911 or your local emergency number.

Best interests

If needed, you can phone Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline, 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453) before filing a report. These counselors can help with the situation you’re experiencing and provide resources. Keep in mind that CPS is designed to operate with the child’s best interests in mind. Golay and other experts feel that it’s better to report your suspicions and there be no issues than to not report and miss out on helping a child who really needs it.

More on child abuse

Nanny arrested for slapping baby
9-year-old girl gives birth in Mexico
Signs of child abuse and neglect


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Comments on "When should you call CPS on someone?"

concerned32 March 17, 2014 | 4:13 AM

To Worried Grandma and Diane. I am in the same position. One day I did indeed call CPS and had guaridanship for a year of my 2 year old grandson.(for drug reasons) shortly after her comes 2 other children born to the same mother, my daughter. I am at my whits end, lice for a year, which I get when I see my granddaughter, house is filthy, parents always sick with something, kids are stuck in the house all day, they are filthy, go to bed dirty and the list goes on, but you get stuck on the line becaue is it neglect? do they deserve to lose the kids. Its a tough call, you dont want to see them lose their kids but the kids are defensless. Its a sucky situation with no answers! I understand

worried grandma March 12, 2014 | 10:00 AM

my grandson is 6 he has diabetes and my daughters house is a filthy mess. she and her husband fight constantly about everything from who will change the 9mo old's diaper to who will make dinner and they are rarely home. which any one with a small diabetic child can tell you that it's not good to run around constantly with them at all hours especially with out some candy or orange juice in case they drop. I wonder constantly if I should call cps especially when things like last week happen, my grandson just got out of the children's hospital and that very same day my daughter and he husband decided to go shooting. so they went home got their guns then went out. a few days later, the poor baby was back at the hospital. and she lets him run around constantly with out a jacket in the cold weather. I struggle not knowing if I should call cps or not... I don't want them to take away our grandkids but I don't want them living that life they are now. what do I do?

Diane Adamson March 08, 2014 | 3:50 PM

I witnessed my son and his wife feeding their first son, who had just turned one, junk food, pizza and foods he could not chew as he had no molars. He was underweight, undersized and now that he is 2-1/2, he is possibly learning disabled. I bought baby food and food processors as I thought this might help but they would not use the products. The parents are divorcing and now have a 1-year-old in the same situation, though not underweight or developmentally behind. I was invited to come to my ex-daughter-in-law's home to stay for a week and found it almost uninhabitable with rodent droppings, flies, cockroaches, dog and ferret feces everywhere and food all over everything. The children are eating junk finger foods, carrying it all around, dropping it on the floor and then eating it. The kids have had rashes and skin infections now and in the past. I bought age-appropriate food, cleaning supplies and storage containers and I tried to clean, organize and pick up things to no avail. I even had a friend try to help me and we were met with more messes everyday. I tried to explain to my ex-daughter-in-law that this is not how to raise children but she became angry and asked me to leave. My son is not much better. The kids stay with her parents while she is working but my ex-daughter-in-law's mother is schizophrenic but her father is very nice and the caregiver for all. Should I just forget this and mind my own business?

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