Abuse & Neglect Reporting App

App for expanding the options for reporting child abuse and neglect


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Skills & Considerations Applied

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Children do not have an app designed for reporting abuse and neglect to trusted school staff. These school staff are crucial for conveying a crisis to child protective services for intervention on the behalf of a child’s safety.


This app provides children an alternative channel for reporting abuse and neglect. Children are provided the comfort of not having to report a crisis in person but rather use a chat function to communicate.


In Florida, abuse and neglect (abuse) is reported by calling a 1-800 number. For children, calling a phone number then verbalizing abuse can feel intimidating, which may result in unreported abuse thus perpetuating a child’s safety risk. With the normalized use of mobile devices among children, it is common and comfortable for them to use apps and messaging services to communicate with others. This consideration resulted in the design of a mobile app for reporting abuse, this design was presented to the heads of technology and innovation over the State of Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF).


It was April 2022 and I had been taking care of foster children for several years and as my time in full-time care began to change to part-time care I pondered how I would be able to continue contributing to child welfare. At the time I had started working with Refetch and started creating tech products, so naturally I thought of ways I could meld the two paths – tech and child welfare.

I had been involved in reporting abuse to the 1-800 Abuse Hotline in the past. I’ve had to undertake the task of calling a phone number with the uncertainty of knowing what would be asked of me, which personnel would be visiting me to ask questions, and the aftermath of a conversation with a government representative. I remembered these feelings then thought if that is how I felt yet still reported abuse, how intimidating it must be for a child, or even a first-time reporting adult, to provide such sensitive information to a stranger over a phone call.

Over the years I had noticed how evasive children are to a phone call, yet so gravitating to messaging for conversation. This made me wonder if children would be more likely to report abuse over messaging versus a phone call.

Initial Research

Before diving into the idea of designing such an app for reporting abuse, I needed to know what had already existed for reporting abuse besides the 1-800 Abuse Hotline.

I chose to briefly interview five people of different roles in child welfare: a Guardian Ad Litem (child advocate), a Dependency Case Manager, a Child Protective Investigator, a Sheriff Deputy, an Executive Director for a foster care organization. Additionally, I briefly interviewed two school teachers about how they are reporting abuse, since children spend most of the day at school.

My primary questions consisted of asking how abuse and neglect are reported for investigation. I know the common answer was going to be the 1-800 Abuse Hotline but I was searching for any other channels for reporting abuse for investigation.

After gathering feedback, all responses pointed to the 1-800 Abuse Hotline. There was no other means of reporting abuse and neglect for investigation. The most common means that abuse was being reported was from child to teacher, from teacher to the School’s Resource Officer (SRO), then from the SRO to the 1-800 Abuse Hotline.


It was not my goal to design something that removed the intermediaries or the 1-800 Abuse Hotline. There are legal considerations to account for also. in the event a report is not handled as expected, additionally the personnel that work at the 1-800 Abuse Hotline are trained to properly screen abuse reports. Also if a child felt comfortable and safe sharing abuse incidents with a person they felt that they could confide in then it wouldn’t be wise to remove those positive figures in the child welfare ecosystem.

Instead, I wanted to create something for children that did not feel like they had those positive figures or felt nervous to speak up.

I wanted something that would feel familiar to children with mobile devices. SMS would not be a good idea because while many children might have a mobile device, some of them might not have a data plan so they use WiFi. Also I wanted something a little more lighthearted than using an SMS-like messenger. That’s when I came to the medium of Snapchat.

Snapchat was something that most tech-capable youth were familiar with. If I could imbue some of the familiarity of Snapchat into an abuse and neglect reporting app then perhaps children would feel more comfortable using it rather than a sterile messaging app.

First Design

The first design for this reporting app would be considered high-level and conceptual, since the first design’s objective was to convey ideas to state officials. I decided to use Adalo, a no-code app builder, to build out my ideas for this reporting app. With Adalo I could replicate the feel of an app so state officials could have a better feel for the user experience.

This first design consisted of minimal screens because, again, the point of this first design was conceptualized sharing. The main screen for the child user would need to allow a child an expedited means of reporting abuse. To me, this meant minimized prerequisites to sharing abuse via message, namely identifying information. To solve this, I could have a child user create an account that saved their identifying information so they wouldn’t have to enter it alongside an abuse report. This way there would be one less barrier for them to provide a report and hopefully relieve some of the hesitancy that accompanies the stress of reporting abuse.

The next task was to solve the messaging interface for children. I needed to create a UI that was easy for children to send a message to receiving personnel. I empathized with how a child would feel with having to report abuse. The trauma, shock, and fear that could potentially impede a child from reporting abuse were at the front of my mind. I wondered “How could I provide a child a way to start a conversation about abuse?”. Typing a message from scratch can be daunting, and we don’t want to lead a child into saying something that is untrue or inaccurate. That’s when I came up with the idea of an Ice Breaker. An Ice Breaker was basically this statement that could be easily expounded on but concise enough that a child could attribute their specific circumstance. As an example, “Someone has hurt me” can lead into many forms of physical, mental or other abuse. This Ice Breaker can be the start of a conversation for officials to investigate further.

I theorized five Ice Breaker statements that would be used as buttons to start a conversation. A child would tap an Ice Breaker button that relates to the crisis they would identify with, then the screen would change to a message thread with their Ice Breaker being the first message bubble shown to signify their Ice Breaker was sent. From this point on, it would be a text message conversation (chat) between a child and the first responder at the Abuse Hotline call center.

After designing the child side of the app, it was time to design the first responder’s (official) side of the app. The UI for the child side of this app was more challenging, not because it was difficult to ideate but making sure that I was empathizing with children to make an app inviting to use was very important. With the officials side of the app more information could be displayed and updated in real time. The dashboard would be a collection of elements that displayed unread messages, alerts for new messages, and history of conversations; as the necessary display elements.

New/Unread messages would be bold and have an alert icon next to them to prompt an urgent response. The conversation that the official would see would be a mirror of the image of what the child sees to further replicate the feel of a messaging app – just like a text message conversation on a phone.


After presenting the first design to the DCF heads of technology and innovation, I concluded that having a “privatized” version of the app would be beneficial and bring the app to market sooner. Based on the feedback I received, it didn’t seem like the current State resources were ready to develop such a reporting app in the near future. When I say “privatized” I really mean having mandated reporters receive abuse reports rather than government officials. A mandated reporter is a person whose responsibility is to report any indications of abuse to authorities. Some examples would be clinicians, first responders, therapists, and school teachers. I figured that if the officials side of the app was directed towards mandated reporters then the app could see adoption much sooner than if implemented by the State because the State would not be doing anything different that it is currently doing – in other words I shifted the workload of reporting from the State to mandated reporters. This innovation would be opening another communication channel between a child and a mandated reporter who they may already have relationships with.

Second Design

Since I had identified a possible way that this app could be adopted, between child and mandated reporter, I could design the app in such a way that reflects that relationship. Any child that attends a school has accessibility to a mandated reporter. Teachers, SRO’s (School Resource Officers), and certain faculty, are mandated reporters. Designing the app so it could be used in a school ecosystem would be the new objective.

On the child side of the app I would need to make a few changes. In the first design, the app would be integrated into the State’s 1-800 Abuse Hotline center. Since the app would be directing abuse reports to mandated reporters, henceforth “faculty” then the app would facilitate a way for children, henceforth “students”, to have the option to select from a list of school faculty they know. This list of school staff would be filtered to the respective school of the student, that way faculty from other schools do not show up on the list for students to see. The faculty list would show a profile picture, like a head shot, of the faculty member, their name and the subject(s) they teach at the school or role at the school. A student would select the faculty members from the list and they would be saved to a list of contacts for future use.

When a student has a crisis they would like to report, they would select from the Ice Breakers, or custom message, then they would be asked who they would like to notify from their contact list of faculty. Next student and faculty member would then exchange messages regarding the crisis via the messaging feature.

On the faculty side, a faculty member would need to set up their account with a profile image, their legal name, their display name, and the subject they teach (if applicable). For the sake of accountability for appropriate conversation between faculty and student, each message would automatically be available for the SRO or administration for oversight and review.

After receiving an abuse report via the app, the faculty member, administration, or SRO would then report the crisis to the 1-800 Abuse Hotline. Once the 1-800 Abuse Hotline has received the report then the user journey will be complete. It is not yet determined the protocol for who should be the reporting personnel, this would likely be determined as further collaboration occurs.


This reporting is still very much in the concept stage. It is my belief that for this app to evolve into an MVP it would require some kind of formal structure, such as attributing it to a nonprofit initiative. I have strongly considered starting this nonprofit and developing the app with a team. This nonprofit would then develop the MVP and seek a school district to partner with for a pilot program. For now, I continue refining the prototype and notating ideas until I can find the right person or team to launch this initiative. This pilot program would be the opportunity for the app to be Beta tested and garner a reputation for being an alternative channel for reporting abuse and neglect.