When You Suspect Child Abuse or Neglect: A General Guide
From the Office of the Texas Attorney General
We all have the responsibility to protect our children from harm. If you suspect the abuse or neglect of a child, it is your duty to report it immediately. Anyone (Not just professionals) having cause to believe that a child’s physical or mental health or welfare has been or may be adversely affected by abuse or neglect MUST report the case immediately to a state or local law enforcement agency or the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS).
DFPS has a toll-free, 24-hour Family Violence Hotline: 1-800-252-5400
Your legal obligation: Current law (Texas Family Code, Chapter 261, 261.101) requires that professionals such as teachers, doctors, nurses, or child daycare workers must make a verbal report within 48 hours. Failure to report suspected child abuse or neglect is a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment of up to 180 days and/or a fine of up to $2,000 (Texas Family Code, Chapter 261). (Editor’s Note- Failure to report by a Professional has changed to a felony) Texas TX HB 1205 Makes the penalty for a professional who knowingly fails to make a report a Class A misdemeanor, except that the offense is a state jail felony if it is shown on the trial of the offense that the actor intended to conceal the abuse or neglect. Enacted) (NCSL, 2013)
Reporting suspected child abuse to your principal, school counselor or superintendent will NOT satisfy your obligation under this law. Local school district policy cannot conflict with or supercede the state law requiring you to report child abuse to a law enforcement agency or DFPS.
Your legal Protection: Your report of child abuse or neglect is confidential and immune from civil or criminal liability as long as the report is made in “good faith” and “without malice.”
In good faith means that the person making the report took reasonable steps to learn facts that were readily available and at hand. Without malice means that the person did not intend to injure or violate the rights of another person. Provided these two conditions are met, you will also be immune from liability if you are asked to participate in any judicial proceedings that might result from your report.
If you suspect abuse:
DON’T try to investigate
DON’T confront the abuser
DO report your reasonable suspicions
It is not up you to determine whether your suspicions are true. A trained investigator will evaluate the child’s situation. Even if your report does not bring decisive action, it may help establish a pattern that will eventually be clear enough to help the child. (Editor’s Note-This is one of the reasons I emphasize the importance of reporting by everyone.)
The following indications don’t by themselves necessarily indicate abuse. You might talk to the child a little to see if there is a simple or innocent explanation for what you have observed.
Warning signs of abuse:
Suspect physical abuse when you see…
- Frequent injuries such as bruises, cuts, black eyes or burns, especially when the child cannot adequately explain their causes
- Burns or bruises in an unusual pattern that may indicate the use of an instrument or a human bite; cigarette burns on any part of the body
- Frequent complaints of pain without obvious injury
- Aggressive, disruptive and destructive behavior
- Lack of reaction to pain
- Passive, withdrawn, emotionless behavior
- Fear of going home or seeing parents
- Injuries that appear after the child has not been seen for several days
- Unseasonable clothes that may hide injuries to arms or legs
Suspect neglect when you see…
- Obvious malnourishment
- Lack of personal cleanliness
- Torn and/or dirty clothes
- Obvious fatigue and listlessness
- A child unattended for long periods of time
- Need for glasses, dental care or other medical attention
- Stealing or begging for food
- Frequent absence or tardiness from school
Suspect sexual abuse when you see…
- Physical signs of sexually-transmitted diseases
- Evidence of injury to the genital area
- Difficulty in sitting or walking
- Frequent expressions of sexual activity between adults and children
- Pregnancy in a young girl
- Extreme fear of being alone with adults, especially if of a particular gender
- Sexually suggestive, inappropriate or promiscuous behavior
- Knowledge about sexual relations beyond what is appropriate for the child’s age
- Sexual victimization of other children
A disclosure: If you are the first person the child tells about sexual abuse, your testimony as “outcry witness” may be especially important in future legal proceedings. What you say the child told you is not considered hearsay but is admissible evidence in a trial involving a sexual offense against a child. This exception applies only to the first person the child approaches.
You are responsible for your child’s safety: If you permit your child to be in a situation where he or she may be injured, then you may be prosecuted for child abuse. The fact that the abuser is a parent or other family member does not remove your obligation to protect the child. (Editor’s Note-Most often abusers are someone the child knows)
If you are frightened for your own safety or that of your child, call 911 or 1-800-252-5400. You are legally responsible for the care of your child. You must provide your child with safe and adequate food, clothing, shelter, protection, medical care and supervision, or else you must arrange for someone else to provide these things. Failure to do so may be considered neglect.
Revised: April 26 2013
Office of Attorney General video:
What Can We Do About Child Abuse?
Dept of Family and Protective Services TX Family Code, Chapter 261
National Conference of State Legislatures. Mandatory Reporting of Child Abuse and Neglect | 2013
Introduced State Legislation. 26 August 2013. Retrieved from http://www.ncsl.org/issues-research/human-services/mandatory-rprtg-of-child-abuse-and-neglect-2013.aspx
Office of the Attorney General. When You Suspect Child Abuse or Neglect: A General Guide. 26 April
2013. Retrieved from https://www.oag.state.tx.us/victims/childabuse.shtml . 16 Sept. 2013