The Runaway Train of Mandated Reporting

51 Pages Posted: 3 Nov 2023 Last revised: 13 Mar 2024

See all articles by Katie Louras

Katie Louras

University of Michigan Law School

Date Written: August 1, 2023


Mandated reporting laws were broadly enacted in the 1960s with good intentions, but in a very different historical context regarding societal knowledge and recognition of child abuse. The practice has since expanded drastically regarding both who must report and what must be reported. In the same sixty years, no research has demonstrated its efficacy. Research does, however, suggest that mandated reporting creates independent harms concentrated within low-income and minority communities. On top of the potential trauma of an investigation stemming from a report, mandated reporting serves to isolate families, cutting them off from community support. Mandated reporters are most commonly those in helping professions. They have themselves protested the barriers these laws create to their work. In short, mandated reporting is a practice that does more harm than good.
Four million calls are made annually reporting suspected child neglect and abuse. Those four million calls, representing 7 million children, result in a 3.5% substantiation rate for abuse—the discovery of 240,000 children who are administratively deemed to be victims of abuse. An additional estimated 360,000 are deemed victims of neglect, a nebulous category often conflated with poverty. Meanwhile, two-and-a-half million other children are unnecessarily subjected to intrusive and potentially traumatic child protective services investigations. A main driver of this harmful excess in reporting is statutorily mandated reporting of suspected child abuse or neglect in every state.
No one wants to leave those 240,000 children, or any children, without protection. But a practice that is not proven to effectively help them, harms ten times as many other children, and persistently, disproportionately, and negatively impacts marginalized communities, defies common sense. Ending mandated reporting, while leaving permissive reporting and training for professionals in its place, will keep children safer and will benefit every stakeholder involved in the system.

Keywords: mandated reporting, child abuse and neglect, disproportionality, family regulation, family policing

Suggested Citation

Louras, Katie, The Runaway Train of Mandated Reporting (August 1, 2023). San Diego Law Review, Vol. 61, No. 1, 2024, U of Michigan Public Law Research Paper No. 24-011, Available at SSRN:

Katie Louras (Contact Author)

University of Michigan Law School ( email )

625 South State Street
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1215
United States

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