I have essentially 3 questions:

1) If someone knowingly files a false report of child abuse to an organization which oversees child welfare (ex Division of Family and Children Services in Georgia), and is found to have done so - have they committed a crime? What are the penalties for this action?

In some states, the answer seems to be pretty clear. Arizona, for example, has AZ Rev Stat § 13-3620.01 (1996 through 1st Reg Sess 50th Legis) which states that:

 A. A person acting with malice who knowingly and intentionally makes a 
false report of child abuse or neglect or a person acting with malice 
who coerces another person to make a false report of child abuse or 
neglect is guilty of a class 1 misdemeanor.

B. A person who knowingly and intentionally makes a false report that a 
person has violated the provisions of subsection A of this section is 
guilty of a class 1 misdemeanor. 

However, my understanding of this document on childwelfare.gov is that this is not a federal crime, and that penalties vary by state. According to the same source, 22 US states and territories do not specifically mention any penalties for false reports of child abuse* - does this mean it is not a crime in those states?

2) What might happen to an individual who knowingly files a false report of child abuse, and then submits a signed written statement indicating that this took place along with an apology and some sort of justification?

3) What justifications might permit such actions without consequences?

Some examples:

A mental illness which is usually treated by medication that went temporarily untreated

An appeal towards some great emotional distress

Say Jane Doe calls child protective services to report that her nephew, John is being mistreated after she has been unable to see her nephew for months because of an argument with the child's parents. Jane is very fond of John and cares for him like a parent. She becomes so worried about her nephew that she calls cps because she is (unreasonably) afraid that he might not be eating enough. Has Jane committed a crime? Is there any way for Jane to recount her false report without admitting to committing a crime?

*This document claims that in regards to false reporting of child abuse in Alabama, Alaska, American Samoa, Delaware, District of Columbia, Georgia, Guam, Hawaii, Maryland, Mississippi, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wisconsin:

This issue is not addressed in the statutes reviewed. 
  • I have a friend who was the victim of a false report from his neighbor (with whom was in an unrelated dispute) after his daughter threw a fairly normal 2-year-old temper tantrum. I don't think the neighbor got in trouble, but there was only the one report AFAIK. This was in New Jersey. Are you interested only in statutes that specifically criminalize false reports made to CPS, or would a more general statute under which such false reports might also fall be of interest?
    – phoog
    Jan 17, 2017 at 18:56
  • For example, law.justia.com/codes/georgia/2010/title-16/chapter-10/article-2/…: "A person who willfully and knowingly gives or causes a false report of a crime to be given to any law enforcement officer or agency of this state is guilty of a misdemeanor." (emphasis added)
    – phoog
    Jan 17, 2017 at 18:58
  • Thanks, @phoog - yes, I think this answers my first question, at least in regards to georgia law. It seemed rather incredible to me that filing false reports with child protective agencies would be permissible under the law in such a large area of the united states. I would imagine most of the 22 states and territories have some similar statute making it illegal to file false reports to state agencies in general.
    – Jack
    Jan 17, 2017 at 19:12
  • Although in NJ the statute I found concerns only "law enforcement agencies," which I think CPS is not.
    – phoog
    Jan 17, 2017 at 19:36
  • @phoog You might want to turn your comments into an answer.
    – ohwilleke
    Nov 10, 2017 at 4:26

2 Answers 2


States which do not have a specific statute prohibiting false reports of child abuse, may have more general statutes whichg prohibit "filing a false report", "Providing flase information during an investigation". or "lying to an investigator" or some similar offense.

Also, such a false report might be defamatory.

Knowledge of the specific state laws would be needed to address a specific situation. In any actual case, I would urge the person who is the subject of a false report to consult a local lawyer who could advise on the available laws and remedies.


The law distinguishes between reports made in good faith that turn out to be erroneous, and false reports made maliciously. In your Jane Doe example it seems that Jane is genuinely concerned, in which case the report is not malicious. As long as Jane made no false statements then she has not committed a crime. If she says "I'm worried that John is not eating enough" then she is speaking honestly. If she says "I know that he is not eating enough" when she is just guessing then she is guilty of making a false report.

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