Access: What Happens When You Make a Call

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The Access stage is where local and tribal child welfare agencies receive information about suspected child maltreatment from community members and mandated reporters. Using this information, they determine whether a report should move to the next stage - initial assessment.

View a graphic representation of this stage of the process.

Should I call?

Children and families thrive when they experience safe, stable, nurturing relationships and environments. When families don't have access to supports, the opposite is true. Calling child protective services is a big decision. It comes with several implications towards the children and families involved. Here are a couple of things to consider so you can be confident in who and when to call when a family needs support:

Physical Abuse

Does the child have injuries that cannot be explained by accidental circumstances and/or has frequent injuries of any kind?

Injuries may include bruising, burns, welts, lacerations, or fractures. If you have observed any of these injuries, consider their size, shape, color, and location. 


Why might the child’s needs not be met? 

A family’s experience of poverty alone is not maltreatment. Can the concern be alleviated by access to supports or resources, such as housing programs or behavioral health? Then the concern is more related to poverty than neglect. 

In these situations, connecting the family to services and organizations in their community is best. If you don't know of any, you can have them call 211 Wisconsin.

Sexual Abuse

Does the parent know of the sexual contact?

Consider the child’s age, developmental abilities, and any parental knowledge of the sexual contact. No child under the age of 15 can consent to any sexual contact.

Emotional Abuse

Is there a pattern?

Consider if the caregiver(s) has taken steps to address or treat any symptoms displayed by the child.

In all situations, it’s a good idea to take a moment to think about how the condition is affecting the child’s safety. If you can, have an open conversation with the caregiver about your concerns. Better yet, partner with them to take protective action. Sometimes what is observed by others is not maltreatment, but rather hardship with basic needs. In these instances, you can help children and families by connecting them to resources and services in their local community.

There are many far reaching implications for families impacted by the child welfare system. For this reason, it’s important that communities take action to support families in keeping children safe. By doing so, we can ensure child protective services is utilized only in situations when this is not possible.

What to expect when making a report

When making a call to report suspected child abuse or neglect, you will speak to a trained professional who will listen to your concerns. The professional will guide the discussion by asking you questions that cover areas such as child and parenting functioning. It is understood that you may or may not have additional information regarding the family. You should provide only what you know. 

Questions you can expect to be asked about the family include:

  • Identifying Information (i.e. Name(s), Address(s), Phone Number, Race(s), etc.)
  • American Indian Heritage
  • Describe Alleged Maltreatment - Current and Past
  • Describe Injury or Condition as a Result of Maltreatment
  • Child(s) Current Location (i.e. school, etc.)
  • Child Functioning (i.e. special needs)
  • History of Domestic Violence
  • Parents Location (i.e. place of employment)

The above information is not necessary to report suspected abuse and/or neglect. The questions above are simply a guide to help prepare you for what will be asked. Even if you do not know all of the answers, please do not hesitate to report.


Child abuse and neglect reports that are given to child protective service agencies are confidential by law. Unless you are a mandated reporter, you can choose to make the report without giving your name.

What happens after I make a report?

A child welfare professional will write up your report. A supervisor will review the report and decide if the situation's seriousness is sufficient to merit assessment. If a decision is made to screen the case in, the supervisor will assign a time response based on the presenting information. The following response times are available:

  • Same day
  • 24-48 hours
  • 5 days

The case will then transition to the second stage of the child welfare system - Initial Assessment.  

It is important to note that no two child welfare cases are the same as family dynamics and stressors vary. While this page provides a high-level overview of the child welfare process, a child can be removed at any time if deemed unsafe. Additionally, when a child is safe, a case can be closed at any step of the process.