A student tells you he or she is being abused. What do you do? This is very important because YOU could lose your certificate, face an investigation by Child Protective Services, lose your job, face criminal action, and be sued.
According to Section 261.101(a) of the Texas Family Code, “Any person having cause to believe that a child’s physical or mental health or welfare has been adversely affected by abuse or neglect by any person shall immediately make a report.” This law requires any school personnel or school volunteers to make a report of child abuse or neglect. Additionally, the statute specifically requires that professionals such as teachers, nurses, day-care workers, and counselors make a report if they suspect that a child has been abused or neglected or may be abused or neglected. The professional may NOT delegate the duty to report to another person, such as a principal or counselor.
What must I report?
You must report any suspicions of abuse or neglect of a child. Abuse includes, but is not limited to, mental or emotional injury to a child; physical injury that results in substantial harm to the child (excluding accidents or reasonable discipline by a parent); genuine threat of substantial harm from physical injury; or sexual conduct that is harmful to the child’s welfare. Neglect includes failure to provide a child with food, clothing, or shelter necessary to sustain the life or health of the child (excluding failure caused by financial inability); failure to seek or obtain medical care for a child; abandonment; leaving a child in a situation where the child would be exposed to substantial risk of physical or mental harm or harmful sexual conduct; or placing a child in or failing to remove a child from a situation that is beyond the child’s abilities and that results in bodily injury or substantial risk of immediate harm.
If you know of, or have access to the information, the report must include the name and address of the child; the name and address of the person responsible for the care, custody, or welfare of the child; and any other pertinent information concerning the alleged or suspected abuse or neglect.
What if I’m not 100% sure that the child is being abused?
The law does not require that you be sure “beyond a reasonable doubt” that a child has been abused or neglected. It merely requires that you have a reasonable “cause to believe.” This simply means that you are aware of facts that cause you to suspect that abuse or neglect of the child has occurred or will occur to the child.
How long do I have to make a report?
A professional who suspects child abuse or neglect must make a report within 48 hours of first becoming suspicious. Any other school employee should make the report as soon as possible.
How do I make a report?
You may make a report either verbally or in writing. A report may be made to any local or state law enforcement agency. You may also make a report directly to Child Protective Services’ 24-hour hotline at (800) 252-5400 or their secure website at txabusehotline.org. No email reports of abuse are accepted. It is not enough just to tell the nurse, counselor, or administrator.
Additionally, the report may be made anonymously. However, Texas Family Code Section 261.101(d) now states that the identity of the person making the report is confidential and may be disclosed only by a court order or a law enforcement officer for the sole purpose of conducting a criminal investigation.
Knowingly or intentionally making a false report is a Class A misdemeanor for a first offense. Any additional offenses constitute a state jail felony.
What are the consequences if I fail to make a report?
A knowing failure to make a report of suspected child abuse is a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to 1 Year in jail, a fine up to $4000.00, or both. Professional employees also place their certificate or license in jeopardy if the State Board of Educator Certification or licensing board is notified of the failure to report.