Step One: A report is made
Police officers, lawyers and people who work with children—like teachers, day-care workers, and health-care providers—are mandated by state law to report abuse or possible abuse if, in their judgment, there is "reasonable cause" to establish a threat to the child.
They face possible civil and criminal liability if they do not report abuse. To report their concerns, mandated reporters call a child abuse hotline, staffed and managed by New York State.
Private individuals can call the same child abuse hotline to report their concerns, which can be named or anonymous. (They can also call 311 or 911, in an emergency.)
According to ACS, all complaints are followed up within 24 hours of the report to determine the child's safety. A home visit must occur within 48 hours – more quickly if a child is determined to be at greater risk.
The human factor:
Before calling the hotline, someone has to decide how bad the situation might be, and whether to report it at all. On the ground, school principals have to weigh whether a bump on the forehead is a schoolyard bruise or something more; a clergy leader has to decide if a runaway's fears are founded. No one wants to be wrong and mistake a dangerous situation for something safer, and no one wants to create legal trouble for a family already in extremis. The choice is ultimately up to the individual, based on her or his experience, judgment and training.