In addition to the mandatory reporters I previously discussed, the Social Services Law specifically authorizes “any person” to make a report of suspected abuse or maltreatment when they have reasonable cause to believe a child is the victim of abuse or maltreatment. (Soc. Ser. Law § 414). While seemingly supported by good intentions, the ability of anyone to make a purely anonymous report of abuse or maltreatment poses a tremendous problem because New York treats any complaint, whether from a known source or a purely anonymous caller, the same. Each triggers what can probably be described as the most intrusive, humiliating, frightening and, far too often, constitutionally improper investigations into the inner most private workings of a family. And to repeat, this can all be triggered by a purely anonymous “tip”.
It is because New York treats anonymous reports the same as reports from known mandatory reporters; the nosey neighbor, the angry neighbor, the spurned ex-lover, the “do-gooder” we all can’t stand, the disgruntled parent, grandparent, uncle, aunt or any variety of wackos can throw one’s life into turmoil with a simple anonymous report to an abuse hotline. There have been cases where families have gone through entire investigations and hearings because a passing motorist saw a child “unattended” in the driveway of a home. Imagine you are watching your child from the porch, just 10 feet away, and because some passing motorist sees only your child, you become the subject of an abuse or neglect investigation.
If the allegations contained in the report, whether anonymous or from a know source, “could reasonably constitute a report of child abuse or maltreatment”, or “if true would constitute child abuse or maltreatment”, the report must be transmitted to the appropriate local child protective agency for investigation (Social Services Law § 422[a], [b] ). Therefore, as long as the false report made by an anonymous ex-boyfriend, disgruntled ex-spouse, nosey neighbor or whomever, makes out a plausible claim of abuse or maltreatment, you will be investigated. I have personally handled cases where a single parent has been the subject of repeated false anonymous reports all of which resulted in an investigation.