How to Check the Child Abuse Registry

By Jayne Thompson

Updated November 30, 2019

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Most states maintain a statewide child abuse registry, which is a centralized listing of all reports and incidences of child abuse and neglect. The exact format varies from state to state, but a search will usually disclose the name of the child and the perpetrator, along with details of the abuse. Access to the registry is restricted, with the intent that searches are made only by law enforcement, child protection agencies and certain employers for screening purposes.

Who Can Check the Child Abuse Registry?

State child abuse registries are confidential so it’s not possible for just anyone to poke around and dig up information on a colleague or a neighbor. In most states, a person can request a child protection registry search on themselves only if they believe they were suspected or substantiated for child abuse or neglect.

In fact, states have a duty of confidentiality in suspected child abuse cases. Records are hidden from public scrutiny to protect the privacy rights of the family, and only professionals involved in the involved child’s life have access to them. Typically, police officers, child protection officers, medical professionals, attorneys, judges, adoption agencies and fostering agencies are permitted access to the registry.

There are exceptions to every rule, and some states permit disclosure to individuals in very specific, very limited circumstances such as if the incident resulted in the fatality of a child. As a general rule, it’s best to assume that an individual can search only for entries relating to themselves.

How to Request a Search of the Child Abuse Registry

The process for requesting a search of the child abuse registry varies by state. An individual interested in such a search should check with the state department of health and social services. In general though, the application process should look something like this one for Vermont:

  1. Complete a request form. The form will ask for the applicant’s details and identifying information such as current and past addresses and Social Security number.
  2. Sign the form in the presence of a notary public.
  3. Mail the form to the Child Protection Registry and wait for a reply. In Vermont, this takes up to 25 business days. 

What Information Does the Child Abuse Registry Contain?

Records vary by state but generally, the registry will include:

  • Identifying information about the child and the perpetrator.
  • The nature and extent of the abuse, including the child’s injuries.
  • Information about other children in the same environment.

The registry may contain additional information such as medical reports and photographs of the child, but it’s unlikely a self-searcher would be given access to these details. In some states, all the searcher will get is confirmation of whether their name is listed on the registry.

Some states only include substantiated reports in the child protection registry, meaning investigators have confirmed the occurrence of abuse or neglect. Others include unsubstantiated reports as well. Where an allegation is not proven, the registry entry should say that it is unsubstantiated, unproven or a similar designation.

Challenging the Child Abuse Records

In about 44 states, a person whose name appears on the registry has the right to challenge the findings of the child-abuse investigation and to have an old or inaccurate record deleted or expunged from the registry. For instance, in Alabama, a named person can request that an unsubstantiated record is expunged from the central registry after five years.

In most cases, the application is dealt with by a process known as an administrative record review, where officials who were not involved in the original case re-open and review the evidence. In some states, a court order will be required before the entry can be expunged.

Use of Records for Employment Screening

Around 32 states permit employers to access the central registry as part of a background check for employment screening purposes, but only where the job involves significant contact with children, such as a teacher, youth worker or child care provider. There may be a different application process for prospective employers, so check with the state department of health and social services.