Issue Brief

Mandatory Reporters: How Colorado’s mandatory reporter law lacks the necessary infrastructure to support those charged with reporting suspected child abuse.

Colorado, like many other states in the country, has had a series of high-profile cases that raise questions about the effectiveness of mandatory reporting laws. The Office of Colorado’s Child Protection Ombudsman (CPO) has received dozens of inquiries from citizens, professionals and mandatory reporters themselves, seeking clarification regarding what the law requires of them. These calls and many others like them, indicate there is room for improvement regarding how professionals respond to children they believe are suffering from abuse and neglect. The CPO conducted an in-depth analysis of Colorado’s mandatory reporting law. The CPO spoke with numerous mandatory reporters, including school administrators, teachers, school resource officers, law enforcement, county human service agencies and others whose job it is to report child abuse and neglect. Additionally, the CPO reviewed mandatory reporter laws across all 50 states to gain a better understanding of how Colorado’s law compares to other states.

To address these inquiries, the CPO studied the Colorado Child Protection Act, which requires nearly 40 types of professionals to report suspected abuse or neglect to human services agencies or law enforcement. That study revealed an inconsistent understanding of the law by mandatory reporters, a fragmented system of trainings for mandatory reporters and a general lack of support and resources for mandatory reporters. Some key findings include:

  • Colorado’s mandatory reporting law does not prohibit agencies or organizations – such as hospitals, schools or day cares – from developing internal processes that require employees to report suspected abuse and neglect to supervisors before it is reported to human services or law enforcement.
  • The law does not require mandatory reporters receive any training regarding their responsibility to report or how to make such reports. Trainings that are available vary, which results in different understandings of the law.
  • There is no standard notification system that informs new mandatory reporters of their obligations to report suspected child abuse and neglect. As a result, many professionals are unaware of their reporting obligations – particularly if they are not part of a larger community of mandatory reporters such as educators, physicians and social workers.

To address these issues and others detailed in the brief, the CPO issued a recommendation to amend Colorado’s mandatory reporting law to create a robust infrastructure that supports Colorado’s mandatory reporters.

* The posted issue brief was updated at 12:42 p.m. on September 15, 2021.