It’s not often we see the California legislature following the same path as Texas. But that’s what happened this year when both states adopted laws to curtail or end anonymous reports to their child abuse hotlines, pushing for confidential reporting instead.
You can read more about our Confidential Reporting model bill here.
An anonymous hotline report is made when the caller chooses not to give their name or other identifying information, but still reports that child abuse is taking place. It’s a practice that is ripe for abuse, as all over the country warring exes or angry family members call child protective services (CPS) on one another just to get revenge—or a leg up in a custody dispute.
This year, both Texas and California passed laws to end those abuses by simply requiring the person taking the call to ask the caller to identify themselves.
Nationally, most substantiated hotline calls come from “mandated reporters”—people who, by virtue of their profession, are mandated by law to report any suspicion of abuse or neglect. (Mandatory reporting laws cause their own problems, dragging far too many innocent families into the CPS net, but that’s a topic for another day.)
Of the remaining substantiated calls (that is, calls that lead to an investigation that finds it likely that abuse or neglect has taken place), only a tiny fraction are anonymous. According to Dale Cecka’s 2014 law review article, Abolish Anonymous Reporting to Child Abuse Hotlines, only 1.5% of all hotline calls are both anonymous and substantiated.
Yet, anonymous calls make up 16% of all calls, according to that same report. That means the already over-stretched CPS system is chasing down ten or eleven innocent families to find one house where abuse has likely occurred.
That’s no longer to be the case in these two large states. Now, under either state’s law, the person at the hotline is required to ask the caller for their name and other identifying information—information that will still be kept confidential but will let the system know who called.
This will hopefully keep callers honest, as those making knowingly false reports can no longer do so under cover of anonymity. My expectation is that the first time many such callers have to leave their name will be the last time they make the call.
The Texas law goes a step further than California’s: hotline workers there are mandated to tell an anonymous caller that “the department is not authorized to accept an anonymous report of abuse or neglect,” and that they can call their local law enforcement instead.
California’s law does not specify what happens if the caller refuses to give their identifying information once it has been asked for. And it does not contain a prohibition from taking an anonymous report if the caller so declines.
Still, it is a hopeful sign. In a year when the California legislature has been especially aggressive in its war against parental rights, it is good to see them take steps to narrow the CPS net so that fewer innocent families are caught up in it.
This is why the model bills on our website are so important: because we never know who might take one up and run with it in their state.
Perhaps you could take one up and find a lawmaker it bring it to your state in 2024.
Thank you for standing with us to protect children by empowering parents in every state—even the surprising ones!