The Nanny’s Dilemma: When to Report or Not to Report Child Abuse?

Would You Be Strong Enough to Be the One Who Starts the Process That Separates a Parent and Child?

In most states, the nanny is legally a Mandatory Reporter. That is, the nanny must report abuse or suspected abuse with no fear of legal liability. However, states provide little or no training for nannies regarding what is abuse or when to report abuse.

The dilemma for the nanny can be daunting. Egregious cases of abuse are obvious. More vexing
is the affectionate hug, a temper tantrum directed at a child, or a spanking.

The instinct is to err on the side of caution. If you suspect something, report it. Easily said, but in some states, a report of suspicion of abuse, even if proven false, will forever appear on a person’s record.

You may be a heroine for alerting authorities to abusive behavior but you might be self-righteous, intrusive, and unemployed if you make a false accusation.

Some politico decry, rightly or wrongly, what they term as a “nanny nation.” In either case, no one can deny that government as parent is not desirable.

Would you want to be the one who starts the process that causes the separation of parent from child? Or deprive a teacher of her career? Or alienate a neighbor? Or involve yourself in legal wrangling?

All this with the sure knowledge that kids are suggestive and that they often lie for their own benefit.

So, when to report and when not to report? As a moral guardian and as a Mandatory Reporter, and if you reasonably certain of abuse, you MUST report the behavior. Period.

As a nanny, you should be aware of any of the changes in behavior we have mentioned this week and in previous blogs, and use these behaviors as red flags of possible mistreatment.

This is not an easy or simple topic, but it is a part of being the best nanny.


  1. I agree we should report any case of possible abuse or neglect but at the same time it is a dilema. Reporting abuse or neglect can ruin the parents lives. I once worked for a family that didn't have enough food for the kids. But, everyone I spoke with felt that by hiring me the parents were providing care, and it wouldn't be considered neglect. I would buy food to cover the meals sometimes so how would that be neglect? I think all parents really do the best they can so it takes a lot of consideration before reporting it.

  2. They are required by DCFS law.

  3. What is DCFS law?

  4. Easier said then done I think. Every nanny says they put the child first but there are many gray areas. You ruin yours and your employer's reputation if you report something not serious worth reporting.

  5. BTW it's usually the other way around: the nanny abuses the child not the parent. Why would abusive parents hire a nanny who would see their abuse?

  6. I would strongly encourage every nanny (in fact, every adult) to research the mandated reporter and child protection laws in their own state of residence and (if different) their state of employment. The law does vary from state to state…in some states, every person over 18 is mandated. In some states, mandated reporters are only mandated when in the course of their work but in others it is at all times. In ALL states, ANY ADULT can report abuse or suspected abuse. You do not have to be legally mandated to make that report. Usually, as a non-mandated reporter you can make the report anonymously. In almost all situations, your identity is legally protected, anyway. However, it is important to know if you are legally mandated to report abuse. If you are, chances are that you are also required to fill out/file certain paperwork within a certain time frame in order for YOU to be protected from prosecution. As well, it is helpful to know how your state defines abuse (legally speaking) and what wording they use…this can make all the difference between a report that is carefully investigated and one that is not. I would also make sure we each understand the criteria in our own states. Contrary to what is written above, in my state (Michigan) mandated reporters are required to report even the suspicion of abuse. They do not have to have proof or be certain, but they are legally obligated to report even suspicion…even if you think the child is lying. Also, in Michigan, your identity is fully protected when you make a report…whether you are mandated to do so or not. An unsubstantiated claim cannot be held against you in any way, nor can the family/parent legally find out who made the report. (And, if they do, you'll get millions from the state for that breach of confidentiality). But, that's Michigan…and every state is different.

  7. So why are so many people arguing that the coaches and coaching assistants and administration at Penn State didn't do anything illegal?

  8. Fiona…Pennsylvania law is pretty ambiguous. I think nearly everyone (I would HOPE everyone!) agrees that the coaches had a moral obligation to report what they knew or suspected, but their legal obligation is debateable.Before that pisses anyone off, I will say that personally I believe they should have reported it to civil authorities long ago, regardless of their legal obligation.Pennsylvania law does not mandate coaches in their list of people required to report based on their job. PA law further states, "A report is required when a person, who in the course of employment, occupation, or practice of a profession, comes into contact with children, has reasonable cause to suspect, on the basis of medical, professional, or other training and experience, that a child is a victim of child abuse."It's a very poorly written law, because it leaves far too much gray area for what does and does not meet that legal standard. I believe the legal argument is that the coaches did not "come into contact with children" as a part of being "in the course of employment, occupation, or practice of a profession…"The coaches may or may not be held legally liable, but my personal opinion is that karma is a bitch…and somehow, ultimately, they'll be liable for failing to protect the children.

  9. Definitely re: Penn State county, state and federal law should supercede any rules for the University. If it wasn't illegal for those childcare workers (let's face it they were working with kids) to not report the incidences to the police it should have been. Don't care if they THOUGHT they did enough, they didn't. Clearly they should all go to their graves feeling guilty for not stopping this guy long ago. Proves money and power are more important than morality for some. Instead of petitions against the new Supernanny show we should be working on petitions to change laws to protect kids in PA and elsewhere!

  10. The coaches at PSU, the reporters in Syracuse and at ESPN were all silent because they feared for their jobs if they reported even the suspicion of abuse to authorities.They feared the loss of access at the schools on whom they report. And, opposed to nannies, these people are influential and have well paid jobs. They can afford to sue if they feel they are unfairly terminated. A nanny is unlikely to have the time or financial fortitude to fight an unlawful termination.

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