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Mandated reporters’ experiences with reporting child maltreatment: a meta-synthesis of qualitative studies
  1. Jill R McTavish1,
  2. Melissa Kimber1,
  3. Karen Devries2,
  4. Manuela Colombini3,
  5. Jennifer C D MacGregor4,
  6. C Nadine Wathen4,
  7. Arnav Agarwal5,
  8. Harriet L MacMillan1,6
  1. 1Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Neurosciences, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
  2. 2Department of Global Health and Development, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London, UK
  3. 3Faculty of Public Health and Policy, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London, UK
  4. 4Faculty of Information and Media Studies, Western University, London, Ontario, Canada
  5. 5Faculty of Medicine, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
  6. 6Department of Pediatrics, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
  1. Correspondence to Dr Jill R McTavish; mctavisj{at}, jillrmctavish{at}


Objective To systematically search for research about the effectiveness of mandatory reporting of child maltreatment and to synthesise qualitative research that explores mandated reporters’ (MRs) experiences with reporting.

Design As no studies assessing the effectiveness of mandatory reporting were retrieved from our systematic search, we conducted a meta-synthesis of retrieved qualitative research. Searches in Medline (Ovid), Embase, PsycINFO, Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature, Sociological Abstracts, Education Resources Information Center, Criminal Justice Abstracts and Cochrane Library yielded over 6000 citations, which were deduplicated and then screened by two independent reviewers. English-language, primary qualitative studies that investigated MRs’ experiences with reporting of child maltreatment were included. Critical appraisal involved a modified checklist from the Critical Appraisal Skills Programme and qualitative meta-synthesis was used to combine results from the primary studies.

Setting All healthcare and social-service settings implicated by mandatory reporting laws were included. Included studies crossed nine high-income countries (USA, Australia, Sweden, Taiwan, Canada, Norway, Finland, Israel and Cyprus) and three middle-income countries (South Africa, Brazil and El Salvador). Participants: The studies represent the views of 1088 MRs.

Outcomes Factors that influence MRs’ decision to report and MRs’ views towards and experiences with mandatory reporting of child maltreatment.

Results Forty-four articles reporting 42 studies were included. Findings indicate that MRs struggle to identify and respond to less overt forms of child maltreatment. While some articles (14%) described positive experiences MRs had with the reporting process, negative experiences were reported in 73% of articles and included accounts of harm to therapeutic relationships and child death following removal from their family of origin.

Conclusions The findings of this meta-synthesis suggest that there are many potentially harmful experiences associated with mandatory reporting and that research on the effectiveness of this process is urgently needed.

  • child protection
  • medical law

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  • Contributors Conceptualisation: HLM, KD, MC, JRMT, JCDM; Analysed the data: JRMT, MK, AA, HLM; Writing–original draft preparation: JRMT; Writing–review and editing: JRMT, MK, KD, MC, JCDM, CNW, HLM; ICMJE criteria for authorship read: JRMT, MK, KD, MC, JCDM, CNW, AA, HLM; Agree with manuscript results and conclusions: JRMT, MK, KD, MC, JCDM, CNW, AA, HLM.

  • Funding HLM and CNW receive funding from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) Institute of Gender and Health (IGH) and Institute of Neurosciences, Mental Health and Addictions (INMHA) to the PreVAiL Research Network (a CIHR Center for Research Development in Gender, Mental Health and Violence across the Lifespan— HLM holds the Chedoke Health Chair in Child Psychiatry at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. JRMT is supported by a postdoctoral fellowship from Violence Evidence Guidance Action (VEGA). MK is supported by Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care Women’s Health Scholar Post-Doctoral Fellowship Award. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish or preparation of the manuscript.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data sharing statement Additional data can be accessed via the Dryad data repository at with the doi:10.5061/dryad.6d159.