Teachers are often the first adults to whom abused children turn for help, and educators — those who see the children every day and can observe their appearance and behavior — are considered a primary source for helping to spot and stop a child’s suffering.
Texas law requires any professional who has reasonable cause to believe that a child is being abused or neglected to make a report to the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services or any local or state law enforcement agency within 48 hours. However, if the suspected abuse or neglect involves a person responsible for the care, custody or welfare of the child, the report must be made to the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services only.
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. Failure to report is a class B misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $2,000, 180 days in jail or both.
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. The contents of a report must include, if known:
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.
Districts must provide training to new teachers on recognition and prevention of child abuse and/or neglect, including sexual abuse.
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.
As a professional courtesy, you may choose to inform an administrator of your suspicions of abuse; however, 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. Additional information on child abuse/neglect and reporting requirements is available on the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services website.
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.