Reporting Child Abuse or Neglect
Child abuse and neglect are treated very seriously by the State of Texas. It is one of the very few crimes for which failure to report is also a crime. In addition, state law requires that anyone holding a state license—including certified teachers, counselors, administrators, paraprofessionals, diagnosticians, and therapists—make a report within 48 hours of the time they come to reasonably suspect that child abuse or neglect might be occurring.
- 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.
- One student abusing another student can be considered child abuse. The abuse does not have to be caused by an adult.
Neglect includes failure to provide a child with food, clothing, shelter, and/or medical care, and/or leaving a child in a situation where the child is at risk of harm.
- Make a report to the proper authorities—a school administrator or counselor is not a proper reporting authority. (See below for who is considered a proper reporting authority.)
- If you are certified or licensed, make that report within 48 hours of the time you first suspect that the child has been or may be abused or neglected.
- Remain calm, and do not make promises to the child. Do not try to conduct your own “investigation.” Leave that to the proper authorities. As soon as possible but out of the presence of the child, make notes about what the child said and how the child acted so you can accurately answer questions if there is an ensuing investigation.
- Any local or state law enforcement agency.
- The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (TDFPS), 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 TDFPS by calling the Child Abuse Hotline at (800) 252-5400, a service of the TDFPS. The report can also be made electronically on the TDFPS website at www.dfps.state.tx.us/contact_us/report_abuse.asp.
- The state agency that operates, licenses, certifies, or registers the facility in which the alleged abuse or neglect occurred.
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 requires that you make the report directly to the proper authorities and prohibits policies that require a report to school personnel first.
- The law requires you to make a report if you have a reason to suspect that abuse might be occurring. 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.
- You are immune from civil or criminal liability for any report of child abuse or neglect 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.
- 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.
- An educator who fails to make a required 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.
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.
- 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 TDFPS will investigate the allegation and will send a report of its investigation to TEA and to the local school board for appropriate action.
Many students report child abuse to teachers, administrators, paraprofessionals, and particularly counselors with the expectation the information will remain in confidence. Many educators are worried about betraying a student’s trust by making an official report. In any case, you must make the report or risk criminal penalties and possible serious negative consequences to your job and career.
Published/reviewed: February 12, 2021
The legal information provided here is accurate as of the date of publication. It is provided here is for informative purposes only. Individual legal situations vary greatly, and readers needing individual legal advice should consult directly with an attorney. Please note: Rights based on the Texas Education Code may not apply to all. Many Texas Education Code provisions do not apply to public charter schools, and public school districts may have opted out of individual provisions through a District of Innovation plan. Eligible ATPE members may contact the ATPE Member Legal Services Department.