Washington State

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson

Reporting Child Abuse and Neglect

Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) within local communities are responsible for receiving and investigating reports of suspected child abuse and neglect. Reports are received by Children’s Administration/Child Protective Services (CPS) located in each community office and assessed to determine whether the report meets the legal definition of abuse or neglect and how dangerous the situation is.

Children's Administration offers several ways to report abuse:

Daytime - Find your local office number to report abuse or neglect in your area.

Nights & Weekends - call 1-800-562-5624 to report abuse during the evening or on weekends.

Hotline - call 1-866-ENDHARM (1-866-363-4276), Washington State's toll-free, 24 hour, 7 day-a-week hotline that will connect you directly to the appropriate local office to report suspected child abuse or neglect.

TTY Callers - call 1-800-624-6186 to place a direct TTY call. 

Questions that will be asked when you call

  1. The name, address and age of the child.
  2. The name and address of the child's parent, guardian or other persons having custody of the child.
  3. The nature and extent of the abuse or neglect.
  4. Any evidence of previous incidences.
  5. Any other information which may be helpful in establishing the cause of the child's abuse or neglect and the identity of the perpetrator.

You do not need to have all of the above information when you call to make a report, but the more accurate information you can provide, the better equipped the offices will be to assess the child's safety.


What is Child Abuse and Neglect?

RCW 26-44-020 defines abuse and neglect as injury, sexual abuse, sexual exploitation, negligent treatment or maltreatment of a child by any person under circumstances which indicate that the child's health, welfare, and safety is harmed. Abuse and neglect does NOT include the physical discipline of a child as defined in RCW 9A.16.100.

Recognizing Child Abuse and Neglect: Signs and Symptoms

The first step in helping abused or neglected children is learning to recognize the signs of child abuse and neglect. The presence of a single sign does not prove child abuse is occurring in a family; however, when these signs appear repeatedly or in combination you should take a closer look at the situation and consider the possibility of child abuse.

The following signs may signal the presence of child abuse or neglect.

The Child:

  • Shows sudden changes in behavior or school performance.
  • Has not received help for physical or medical problems brought to the parents' attention.
  • Has learning problems (or difficulty concentrating) that cannot be attributed to specific physical or psychological causes.
  • Is always watchful, as though preparing for something bad to happen.
  • Lacks adult supervision.
  • Is overly compliant, passive, or withdrawn.
  • Comes to school or other activities early, stays late, and does not want to go home.

The Parent:

  • Shows little concern for the child.
  • Denies the existence of-or blames the child for-the child's problems in school or at home.
  • Asks teachers or other caretakers to use harsh physical discipline if the child misbehaves.
  • Sees the child as entirely bad, worthless, or burdensome.
  • Demands a level of physical or academic performance the child cannot achieve.
  • Looks primarily to the child for care, attention, and satisfaction of emotional needs.

The Parent and Child:

  • Rarely touch or look at each other.
  • Consider their relationship entirely negative.
  • State that they do not like each other.

Common Indicators:

Author: Child Welfare Information Gateway (http://www.childwelfare.gov)


Who is required to report child abuse and neglect?

Any person who has cause to believe that a child has suffered abuse or neglect should report such incidents.

Those people legally required to report child abuse or neglect are:

  • Medical practitioners
  • Social service counselors/therapists
  • Medical examiners
  • School personnel
  • Child care providers
  • Law enforcement officers
  • Juvenile probation officers
  • Corrections employees
  • DSHS employees
  • Placement and liaison specialists
  • Responsible living skills program staff
  • HOPE center staff
  • State family and children's ombudsman
  • Any volunteer in the ombuds’ office
  • Adults residing with child suspected to have been severely abused

A Guide for Recognizing & Reporting Child Abuse and Neglect can be found here


What Happens Once Abuse and Neglect is Reported?

Child Protective Services

Staff within DSHS provides Child Protective Services (CPS). When someone reports that a child may be abused or neglected, CPS determines if it meets the criteria for investigation. A report of suspected child abuse or neglect could be made to CPS or the police. Even though CPS staff and the police work together, they make separate investigations. CPS conducts family assessments, and the police conduct criminal investigations.

Protective Custody

When it appears that a child is in danger of being harmed, or has already been seriously abused or neglected, a police officer can place the child in protective custody. Custody of the child is then transferred to CPS which places the child with a relative or in foster care. By law, a child can be kept in protective custody for no more than 72 hours, excluding weekends and legal holidays. If the child is not returned to the parents or some other voluntary arrangement made within 72 hours, the matter must be reviewed by a court.

Parental Rights

In very serious cases of abuse and neglect, a child can be removed permanently from the parents. This is called termination of parental rights. When this happens, the child becomes legally free through a court procedure. The parent no longer has any rights or responsibilities toward the child. If a parent voluntarily gives up a child for adoption, the process is called relinquishing parental rights.

Child Welfare Services

Child Welfare Services (CWS) provides services to children and families with long-standing abuse and neglect problems. Typically these children have been removed from the family home and are in the foster care system. The focus of CWS is to achieve a permanent plan and placement for these children as soon as possible.


There are an array of Adolescent services to families and youth through federal and state funded programs. In addition to direct services provided by the Administration, services are funded through contracts with local community agencies enabling us to meet the unique needs of each family or youth.   

Whether in crisis or looking to take that next step toward independence, such as searching for a job or applying for college, there is a service to meet that need. These programs provide access and support designed to help positive youth development.

Independence for Foster Youth Website

Foster Youth learn how to find a job, get housing, create a budget, navigate the financial aid maze, and successfully get into college.

Go to Independence for Foster Youth