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Child Abuse Reporting Requirements for Individuals and Entities

This document, created by the Wisconsin Coalition Against Domestic Violence (WCADV) Legal Department, does not constitute legal advice.


  1. Individuals Who Are Mandated Child Abuse Reporters*

    1. Who are the individuals mandated to report child abuse?
      See Sec. 48.981(2), Wis. Stats.

      1. Acupuncturist
      2. Alcohol Counselor
      3. Audiologist
      4. Child Care Provider
      5. Child Care Worker in a child care center, group home, or residential care center for children and youth
      6. Chiropractor
      7. Clergy [See I.F. for exceptions]
      8. Coroner
      9. Court-appointed special advocate
      10. Dentist
      11. Dietitian
      12. Drug Abuse Counselor
      13. Emergency Medical Technician
      14. Family Therapist
      15. First responder
      16. Law Enforcement Officer
      17. Marriage and Family Therapist
      18. Mediator under Sec. 767.405
      19. Medical Examiner
      20. Medical Professional
      21. Mental Health Professional
      22. Nurse [See I.F. for exceptions]
      23. Occupational Therapist
      24. Optometrist
      25. Physical therapist
      26. Physical therapist assistant
      27. Physician [See I.F. for exceptions]    
      28. Police
      29. Professional Counselor [Individual who holds a professional counselor certificate from the Wisconsin Examining Board of Social Workers, Marriage and Family Therapist and Professional Counselors.  See Secs. 457.06, 457.12 and 457.13, Wis. Stats.]
      30. Public Assistance Worker, including a financial and employment planner under Sec. 49.141(1)(d)
      31. School Administrator
      32. School Counselor
      33. School Employee (All School Employees/Staff per 2011 WI Act 81.)
      34. School Teacher
      35. Social Worker
      36. Speech-Language Pathologist
      37. Treatment Staff  Member employed by or working under contract with county department under Sec.46.23 [human services], Sec. 51.42 [community mental health, development disabilities, alcoholism, and drug abuse services] or Sec. 51.437 [developmental disabilities services]

        *Voluntary Reporting

        1.         Under Wis. Stat. 48.981(2)(c) any person not listed above, including an attorney, who has reason to suspect that a child has been abused or neglected or who has reason to believe that a child has been threatened with abuse or neglect and that abuse or neglect of the child will occur may report.
        2.         Under Wis. Stat. 48.981(2)(d) any person, including an attorney, who has reason to suspect that an unborn child has been abused or who has any reason to believe that an unborn child is at substantial risk of abuse may report.

    2. What are the mandated individual child abuse reporters required to report?
      See Sec. 48.981(2) Wis. Stats.

      1. Reasonable cause to suspect child seen in course of his or her professional duties has been abused or neglected; or
      2. Reason to believe child seen in the course of his or her professional duties has been threatened with abuse or neglect and that abuse or neglect of child will occur.

    3. How are child abuse and neglect defined? 
      See subsections for statutory cites.

      1. Abuse is defined as:
        1. Physical injury inflicted on a child by other than accidental means. Physical injury includes, but is not limited to lacerations, fractured bones, burns, internal injuries, severe or frequent bruising or great bodily harm.  Great bodily harm means bodily injury which creates a substantial risk of death, or which causes serious permanent disfigurement, or which causes a permanent or protracted loss or impairment of the function of any bodily member or organ or other serious bodily injury. [See Secs. 48.02 (1)(a) and (14g) and 939.22(14).]
        2. Sexual intercourse or sexual contact under Sec. 940.225, 948.02, or 948.025, Wis. Stats. [See Sec. 48.02 (1)(b).]
        3. A violation of Sec. 948.05, sexual exploitation of a child. [See Sec. 48.02 (1)(c).]
        4. Permitting, allowing or encouraging a child to violate Sec. 944.30, prostitution laws. [See Sec. 48.02(1)(d).]
        5. A violation of Sec. 948.055, causing a child to view or listen to sexual activity. [See Sec. 48.02(1)(e).]
        6. A violation of Sec. 948.10, exposing genitals or pubic area. [See Sec. 48.02(1)(f).]
        7. Emotional damage for which the child’s parent, guardian or legal custodian has neglected, refused or been unable for reasons other than poverty to obtain the necessary treatment or to take steps to  ameliorate the symptoms. [See Sec. 48.02(1)(gm).]

      2. Neglect means failure, refusal or inability on the part of a parent, guardian, legal custodian or other person exercising temporary or permanent control over a child, for reasons other than poverty, to provide necessary care, food, clothing, medical or dental care or shelter so as to seriously endanger the physical health of the child. [See Sec. 48.981(1)(d).]

    4. To whom are the mandated individual child abuse reporters required to report?
      See Sec. 48.981(3) Wis. Stats.

      1. Immediately notify the county department of social services or human services; if in Milwaukee County, notify the Bureau of Milwaukee Child Welfare; or

      2. Immediately notify the sheriff or city, village or town police department.

    5. What are the penalties for failure by an individual to report child abuse?
      See Sec. 48.981(6)

      1. An intentional violation by failure to report as required may result in a fine up to $1,000.00 or imprisonment up to six months or both.

    6. Exceptions to the child abuse reporting law
      See Sec. 48.981(2m): Note: The purpose of this law is to allow children to obtain confidential health care services.

      1. The following persons are not required to report a suspected or threatened abuse, as defined in Sec. 48.02(1)(b), Wis. Stats., any sexual intercourse or sexual contact involving a child:
        1. A health care provider who provides any health care service to a      child.  [See Sec. 48.981(2m)(c)1.];
        2. A person who obtains information about a child who is receiving or has received health care services from a health care provider [See Sec. 48.981(2m)(c)4.];
          NOTE:  A health care provider is defined as a physician as defined by Sec. 448.01(5), a physician assistant as defined by Sec. 448.01(6), or a nurse holding a certificate of registration under Sec. 441.06(1) or a license under Sec. 441.10(3).  Health care service means family planning services, as defined in Sec. 253.07(1)(b), pregnancy testing, obstetrical health care or screening, or diagnosis and treatment for a sexually transmitted disease.   [See Sec.  48.981(2m)(b)1. and (b)2.];

      2. However, any person listed in the paragraph above [II. F.1. a. and b.] shall report if he or she has reason to suspect any of the following [See Sec. 48.981(2m)(d)1. to 5., Wis. Stats]:
        1. The sexual intercourse or contact occurred or is likely to occur with a caregiver;
        2. The child suffered or suffers from a mental illness or mental deficiency that rendered or renders the child temporarily or permanently incapable of understanding or evaluating the consequences of his or her actions;
        3. The child, because of his or her age or immaturity, was or is incapable of understanding the nature or consequences of sexual intercourse or sexual contact;
        4. The child was unconscious at the time of the act or for any other reason was physically unable to communicate unwillingness to engage in sexual intercourse or sexual contact;
        5. Another participant in the sexual contact or sexual intercourse was or is exploiting the child;
          NOTE: Any of the above persons shall also report if the person has any reasonable doubt as to the voluntariness of the child’s participation in the sexual contact or sexual intercourse. [See Sec. 48.981(2m)(e), Wis. Stats.].

      3. Even though clergy are mandated reporters, Sec. 48.981(2)(bm)(3) does not require them to report abuse information that is received during the following confidential communications:
        1. A confession.
        2. Any other type of routine private communication in which a clergy has a duty or is expected to keep secret.

  2. What Are The Child Abuse Reporting Requirements Within Entities?

    1. The laws relating to reporting of child abuse do not change for those who are mandated to report child abuse, regardless of whether the child abuse occurs in an entity.  (See Section I., I., above.)  Regardless of where child abuse occurs, a mandated child abuse reporter is to follow the procedures outlined above, including reporting requirements under Section I., I. D., above.

    2. However, entities do have an additional obligation if child abuse is reported within an entity.

      1. “Entity” means a facility, organization or service that is licensed or certified by or registered with the Department of Health Services to provide direct care or treatment services to clients; or an agency that employs or contracts with an individual to provide personal care services.

      2. “Entity” includes a hospital, a personal care worker agency, a supportive home care service agency, a temporary employment agency that provides caregivers to another entity, and the board on aging and long-term care.  (See section B below for a complete list of entities covered by the law.)

      3. “Entity” does NOT include any of the following:
        1. Licensed or certified child care under ch. 48.
        2. Kinship care under s. 48.57 (3m) or long-term kinship care under s. 48.57 (3n).
        3. A person certified as a medical assistance provider, as defined in s. 49.43 (10), who is not otherwise approved under Sec. 50.065 (1) (cm), licensed or certified by or registered with the Department of Health Services.
        4. An entity, as defined in s. 48.685 (1) (b), entities that provide services for children. (See SECTION ONE for mandated child abuse reporters).
        5. A public health dispensary established under s. 252.10.

    3. What is an entity required to do if it receives a report of child abuse? 
      See DHS 13.05(3)(c) [Administrative Rule, Effective 7/1/99]; Sec. 48.981, Wis. Stats.

      1. An entity shall report immediately by telephone or personally to the county department of social services or human services or the sheriff or city, village or town police department the facts and circumstances contributing to a suspicion the child abuse or neglect has occurred or to a belief that child abuse or neglect will occur.

      2. The entity shall notify the Department of Health Services in writing or by phone within seven calendar days that the report had been made; notice that the report has been made can be given to:
        Caregiver Registry and Investigation Unit
        Bureau of Quality Assurance
        PO Box 2969, Madison, WI 53701-2969
        Phone: 608-261-7650

    4. What are the penalties for failure by a person employed by or under contract with the entity to report child abuse?
      See DHS 13.05(3)(e) [Administrative Rule]

      1. Intentional failure to report any misconduct places the entity subject to no more than a $1,000 fine and the entity is subject to any of the following
        1. Submission and implementation of a plan of correction for approval by the Wisconsin Department of Health Services
        2. Implementation by the entity of a department imposed plan of correction
        3. Any regulatory limitations or conditions imposed by the Wisconsin Department of Health Services
        4. Suspension or revocation of licensure, certification, or other approval for not more than 5 years
        5. Notification in a local newspaper of the act and, if applicable, any forfeiture imposed

  3. In What Other Situations Must Child Abuse Be Reported?
    Duty to aid victim or report a crime: See Sec. 940.34, Wis. Stats.

      1. Sec. 940.34(2)(a), Wis. Stats., states that any person who knows a crime is being committed and that the a victim is exposed to bodily harm shall summon law enforcement officers or other assistance or shall provide assistance to the victim.  This duty does not apply if compliance would place the reporting person in danger or interfere with duties the person owes to others.

      2. Sec. 940.34(2)(b), Wis. Stats., states any person licensed as a private detective or granted a private security permit under Sec. 440.26, Wis. Stats.,  who has reasonable grounds to believe that a crime is being committed or has been committed shall notify promptly an appropriate law enforcement agency of the facts which form the basis for this belief.

      3. Sec. 940.34(2)(c)2., Wis. Stats., states any unlicensed private security person, as defined in Sec. 440.26(1m)(h), Wis. Stats., who has reasonable grounds to believe a crime is being committed or has been committed shall notify an appropriate law enforcement agency of the facts which form the basis for this belief.

      4. Sec. 940.34(1)(a), (b), & (c), Wis. Stats., state intentional failure to report is a Class C misdemeanor.  Those who are licensed face having their license revoked, suspended, or limited.