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How to Know When to Contact the Department of Children and Family Services

If you suspect or have witnessed cases of child abuse or neglect, know when it's the right time to contact your state's Department of Children and Family Services.


  • Step 1: Know about child abandonment. Child abandonment is neglect where the parent's or guardian's identity or whereabouts is unknown, or where the child is left in harmful circumstances.
  • Step 2: Be aware of your rights as a child abuse or neglect reporter. Many states give immunity from civil or criminal liability to those who report in good faith.
  • FACT: Singer Christina Aguilera wrote "I'm Okay" about her experiences as a child staying in domestic violence shelters with her mother.
  • TIP: Some states consider exposure to parental substance abuse a type of child neglect.
  • Step 3: Understand the legal definition of neglect, which is a parent or guardian's failure to provide food, clothing, shelter, or medical care for a child.
  • Step 4: Know who are legally mandated by your state to report child abuse or neglect. Examples include school officials, law enforcement officers, and medical personnel.
  • Step 5: Know the legal definition of physical abuse. It is typically summarized as any non-accidental physical injury to a child or acts that threaten a child with harm.
  • TIP: Most state or county departments of social services maintain phone hotlines to report cases of child abuse.
  • Step 6: Go to to learn how child abuse and neglect are defined by federal and state governments. As definitions vary state to state, search the database for state statutes.

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