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Child Abuse Reporting in Texas

What are the definitions of abuse?

  • Abuse can be mental, emotional, physical or sexual. People may be guilty of abuse if they personally inflict the abuse, or if they cause or permit a child to be in a situation that results in the abuse.
  • A mental or emotional injury is one that "results in an observable and material impairment in the child’s growth, development or psychological functioning."
  • A physical injury is one that results in substantial harm or the genuine threat of substantial harm to the child.
  • Sexual abuse is any sexual conduct that is harmful to a child’s mental, emotional or physical welfare.
  • Prohibited conduct includes allowing a child to be depicted in obscene or pornographic material.
  • The failure to make a reasonable effort to prevent another person from committing physical or sexual abuse also constitutes abuse.

If I suspect child abuse, what do I do?

  • Make a report to the proper authorities.
  • Make that report within 48 hours of the time you first suspect that the child has been or may be abused or neglected.

Who exactly is a "proper authority"?

  • Any local or state law enforcement agency
  • The Texas Department of Protective and Regulatory Services (TDPRS), if the suspected abuse involves a person responsible for the care, custody or welfare of a child (such as a child’s parent or guardian, personnel at a residential facility or school personnel). You can make a report to the TDPRS by calling the Child Abuse Hotline at (800) 252-5400, a service of the TDPRS.
  • The state agency that operates, licenses, certifies or registers the facility in which the alleged abuse or neglect occurred

Is another school district employee a "proper authority"?
No.  Even if a school policy requires that educators report suspected child abuse to a designated person within the school district, you still must make a report to one of the previously listed authorities. Although it is important to follow school policy, state law still requires that you make the report directly to the proper authorities and prohibits policies that require a report to school personnel first.

What if I am not sure that abuse is or may be occurring?

  • The child abuse reporting law requires you to make a report if you have any reason to believe that abuse might have occurred. Therefore, you must make a report even if you have no way of confirming your suspicions.

  • Talk with a trained professional at the Child Abuse Hotline at (800) 252-5400 if you observe behavior in a child that gives you cause for concern but would like more information about whether the behavior is indicative of abuse or neglect.

What if my suspicions are wrong?

  • You are immune from civil or criminal liability for any report of child abuse as long as the report is made in good faith.

  • A person who reports his or her own conduct, or who acts in bad faith or with malice in reporting alleged abuse, is not immune from civil or criminal liability.

Is my report confidential?

  • A report of suspected abuse or neglect is confidential, and it is not subject to public release under the Open Records Act.

  • The identity of the person making a report as well as information contained in the report may be disclosed only for purposes consistent with the investigation of the alleged child abuse and in accordance with the requirements of the Family Code.

What happens if I suspect child abuse but I don’t make a report?

  • An educator who fails to make a required child abuse report may be subject to criminal prosecution or civil liability.

  • Failure to report is a class-B misdemeanor offense. A class-B misdemeanor is punishable by a fine of up to $2,000 and/or imprisonment for up to 180 days.

  • Failure to report could subject you to considerable monetary liability in a civil rights lawsuit.

  • Failure to report could result in sanctions to your professional certificate, if you have one.

What if someone makes a false report about me?
Any person who knowingly or intentionally makes a false report commits a class-A misdemeanor. A class-A misdemeanor is punishable by a fine of up to $4,000 and/or imprisonment for up to one year.

What is the school district’s responsibility in handling child abuse?

  • Section 38.004 of the Texas Education Code requires the Texas Education Agency (TEA) to develop a policy governing child abuse reports and requires each school district to adopt the policy.

  • Each school district must provide child abuse anti-victimization programs in elementary and secondary schools.

  • If the alleged abuse occurs in a public school, the TDPRS will investigate the allegation and will send a report of their investigation to TEA and to the local school board for appropriate action.

The child made me promise not to tell anyone. What do I do now?
Many students report child abuse to teachers, administrators, para-educators and, particularly, counselors, with the expectation that the information will remain in confidence. Many educators are worried about betraying a student’s trust by making an official report. In such cases, you may want to explain to the student that you are required by law to make the report and that you may suffer criminal penalties if you do not.
     If a child chooses you as a confidante, it is important to listen carefully and elicit as much information as you can in your conversation. If you are the first person a child has told about sexual abuse, your testimony could become very important in possible future legal proceedings. The very first person a child tells about sexual abuse is called an "outcry witness," and all information given to you by the child is admissible evidence.

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The legal information provided on this website is for general purposes only. It is not intended as a substitute for individual legal advice or the provision of legal services. Accessing this information does not create an attorney-client relationship. Individual legal situations vary greatly and readers should consult directly with an attorney. Eligible ATPE members should contact the ATPE Member Legal Services Department using our online system, MLSIS.
 

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