Date of Conferral



Doctor of Social Work (DSW)


Social Work


Debora S. Rice


Child maltreatment is a worldwide concern. In the Commonwealth of Virginia, social workers are mandated reporters. When there is reasonable suspicion, they are required by law to report suspected child maltreatment to the appropriate Child Protective Services office. In this study, the research problem was the underreporting of child maltreatment, even when reasonable suspicion existed. The purpose of this study, as reflected in the research questions, was to understand social workers' perceptions of their role as mandated reporters, to explore how their perceptions impacted reporting, and to develop recommendations that could be implemented to help ensure appropriate reporting. An action research study was conducted with master's level social workers in southern Virginia. Symbolic interaction theory was used in researching the social workers' role and their perceptions as mandated reporters interacting with clients. Qualitative data were collected from a focus group of 6 social workers and analyzed using specific coding protocols. Six themes emerged: (a) importance of the role of social worker as a mandated reporter, (b) role conflict, (c) negative consequences, (d) feelings, (e) increased knowledge of child abuse laws, and (f) education of clients. The findings of this study may be used by regulators and agency personnel to design education, training, and supervision to help ensure social workers are prepared to appropriately respond to mandated reporting requirements.