When it comes to reporting suspected child abuse, school district HR has a responsibility to make sure the district employee handbook outlines its requirements and to remind employees they could face severe penalties for failure to report their suspicions.
All employees are required by state law to report any suspected child abuse or neglect to a law enforcement agency, Child Protective Services (CPS), or appropriate state agency (e.g., state agency operating, licensing, certifying, or registering the facility) within 48 hours of the event that led to the suspicion. Alleged abuse or neglect, involving a person responsible for the care, custody, or welfare of the child (including a teacher) must be reported to CPS.
Sexual abuse, as defined by Texas Family Code §26.001, is any sexual conduct harmful to a child’s mental, emotional, or physical welfare as well as a failure to make a reasonable effort to prevent sexual conduct with a child.
Employees are also required to make a report if they have cause to believe that an adult was a victim of abuse or neglect as a child and they determine in good faith that the disclosure of the information is necessary to protect the health and safety of another child or person with a disability.
Reports to Child Protective Services can be made on the Texas Abuse Hotline website or to the Texas Abuse Hotline (800.252.5400). State law specifies that an employee may not delegate to or rely on another person or administrator to make the report.
Under state law, any person reporting or assisting in the investigation of reported child abuse or neglect is immune from liability unless the report is made in bad faith or with malicious intent. In addition, the district is prohibited from retaliating against an employee who, in good faith, reports child abuse or neglect or who participates in an investigation regarding an allegation of child abuse or neglect.
An employee’s failure to make the required report may result in prosecution as a Class A misdemeanor. The offense of failure to report by a professional may be a state jail felony if it is shown the individual intended to conceal the abuse or neglect. In addition, a certified employee’s failure to report may result in disciplinary procedures by SBEC for a violation of the Texas Educators’ Code of Ethics.
Employees who suspect that a student has been or may be abused or neglected should also report their concerns to the campus principal. This includes students with disabilities who are no longer minors. Employees are not required to report their concern to the principal before making a report to the appropriate agency.
Reporting the concern to the principal does not relieve the employee of the requirement to report it to the appropriate state agency. In addition, employees must cooperate with investigators of child abuse and neglect. Interference with a child abuse investigation by denying an interviewer’s request to interview a student at school or requiring the presence of a parent or school administrator against the desires of the duly authorized investigator is prohibited.
TASB Legal Services' chart Child Welfare Issues in Texas Public Schools includes guidance on when and how to report suspected child abuse or neglect to law enforcement or the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) and other issues related to student.
April Mabry is an assistant director and Karen Dooley is a senior HR consultant at TASB HR Services. Send April or Karen an email at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.