Teachers, Other Professionals & Child Abuse Reporting: Know the Laws

Child Abuse or Neglect Reporting

The following was included in TCTA’s 2013-14 Survival Guide, the ultimate reference tool for Texas educators, and is current as of summer 2013 but is subject to change.

Definition of Abuse: The definition of abuse includes physical, sexual or mental abuse, and also failure to make a reasonable effort to prevent a child from being abused.

Reporting Requirements:
 ◾Texas law requires any professional who suspects that a child is being abused or neglected to report it within 48 hours to the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services at 800-252-5400 or any local or state law enforcement agency.
◾Reports must be made of any type of suspected abuse or neglect, not just acts of physical abuse.
◾The obligation to report includes abuse that may occur in the future.

The contents of a report must include, if known:
1.the name and address of the child
2.the name and address of the person responsible for the care, custody or welfare of the child, AND
 3.any other pertinent information concerning the alleged or suspected abuse or neglect

Situations involving possible abuse or neglect of a child and the steps taken to report it may present themselves in different ways. See two examples in Texas DFPS video scenarios.

Reporting is YOUR Responsibility:  While it is suggested that, as a professional courtesy, you inform an administrator of your suspicions of abuse, this action does not satisfy or negate your responsibility under Texas law to make a report within 48 hours. The Texas Family Code states that “a professional may not delegate to or rely on another person to make the report.”  Rules developed by the commissioner of education stress that district procedures may not undermine state law by requiring school personnel to report suspected child abuse to administrators prior to making the report to the proper authorities. 

Abuse Hotline:  Call the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services’ 24-hour, toll-free telephone hotline to report suspected abuse or neglect: 800-252-5400. Or file a nonemergency report online.

Consequences of Failure to Report:  Failure to report is a class B misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $2,000, 180 days in jail or both.  (Editor’s note- This has changed to a potential felony offense.) NCSL, 2013)

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

 

 

Immunity Provisions:  Those reporting are not required to have proof that a child is being abused but must have reasonable cause to know or suspect abuse. As long as the report is made in good faith, the reporter is protected from civil and criminal liability.  The commissioner of education has enacted rules supporting state law that require school district policies to inform employees of their immunity from liability for good faith reports as well as the penalties for failure to report.

Confidentiality Requirements:  The Texas Family Code specifically states that both a child abuse report and the identity of an individual making a report are confidential and may be disclosed only by order of a court or to a law enforcement officer for the purposes of conducting a criminal investigation.  A court may not order the disclosure of a reporter’s identity or a child abuse report unless a motion has been filed and the judge has conducted a private review of the requested information and determined that the disclosure is essential to the administration of justice, and is not likely to endanger the life or safety of the child or reporter.

Mandatory Training:  As part of new employee orientation, school districts must provide training on recognition and prevention of sexual abuse and other maltreatment (abuse and/or neglect) of children. The training may also be provided as part of a school district’s staff development offerings for ALL employees.  (Editor’s Note-Is your district following this procedure?)

The training must include:
◾factors indicating a child is at risk for sexual abuse or other maltreatment
 ◾likely warning signs indicating a child may be a victim of sexual abuse or other maltreatment
 ◾internal procedures for seeking assistance for a child who is at risk for sexual abuse or other maltreatment, including referral to a school counselor, a social worker, or another mental health professional
◾techniques for reducing a child’s risk of sexual abuse or other maltreatment
 ◾community organizations that have relevant existing research-based programs that are able to provide training or other education for staff members, students and parents (Editors Note- See additional Legislation passed this summer) (NCSL, 2013)

Texas TX SB 939 Requires each school district, open-enrollment charter school, and higher education employee to report child abuse or neglect.  Each school’s reporting policy may not permit or require an employee to report child abuse or neglect to the employee’s supervisor before the employee makes the report to the Department.  Each institution of higher education shall also adopt a policy governing the reporting of child abuse and neglect for the institution and its employees. Training must be provided to orientation, to all new school district and open-enrollment charter school employees and to existing district and open-enrollment charter school employees until all district and open-enrollment charter school employees have taken the training.  Each institution of higher education shall provide training for employees who are professionals in recognizing and preventing sexual abuse and other maltreatment of children and the responsibility and procedure of reporting suspected occurrences of sexual abuse and other maltreatment. Enacted

School district employees acting in compliance with required school district policies regarding sexual abuse or other maltreatment of children are immune from liability and cannot be subjected to any disciplinary proceeding resulting from those actions.  Additional information on child abuse/neglect and reporting requirements is available from the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services.  (Editor’s Note-This is written to protect those reporting.  Please do not misinterpret this as protecting those whose school or district promotes policies that do not reflect the law.  You are not protected if you fail to report, even if that is your unofficial school or district policy.  You will pay the penalty and do the time. )

Sources

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

Texas Classroom Teachers Association.  Child Abuse or Neglect Reporting.  17  July 2013.  Retrieved from https://tcta.org/node/11489-child_abuse_or_neglect_reporting

 

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