Defining Child Abuse

The first step in knowing your duties to report abuse and neglect is identifying them. In Texas, child abuse includes the following acts or omissions: (1) causing mental or emotional injury or permitting the child to be in a situation which causes mental or emotional injury; (2) physical injury or the threat of physical injury or the failure to make a reasonable effort to prevent another person from harming a child; (3) sexual misconduct or the failure to make a reasonable effort to prevent sexual misconduct by another person; (4) compelling or encouraging the child to engage in sexual conduct or allowing the child to be photographed in an obscene manner; (5) using a controlled-substance in a way that physically, mentally or emotionally harms a child; (6) causing, permitting or encouraging substance abuse by a child; or (7) causing, permitting or encouraging a child to be trafficked


Defining Child Neglect

The Texas Family Code also provides a definition for child neglect: (1) leaving a child in a situation where the child is exposed to a substantial risk of physical or mental harm and not arranging for childcare and showing an intent not to return; (2) placing a child in a situation requiring judgment or actions beyond a child's maturity or physical capabilities, and that results in injury or risk of harm to the child; (3) failing to seek medical care for a child when there is risk of death, disfigurement, injury or impairment to the child's development; (4) not providing necessary food, shelter or clothing to a child; (5) placing a child in, or failing to remove a child from, a situation where there is a substantial risk of the child being exposed to sexual misconduct; (6) not removing a child from a situation where another child is being abused; (7) not letting a child return home after the child is away for any reason.


The Public's Duty to Report

It seems common knowledge that certain professionals must report child abuse and neglect. However, in Texas, there is a duty on both professionals and on the public to report child abuse or neglect.Texas Family Code Section 261.101 provides very clearly that any person with reason to believe that a child's welfare is being impaired by abuse or neglect must immediately report such abuse or neglect.


A Professional's Duty to Report

In Texas, any professional with reason to believe that a child is being abused or neglected must make a report within 48 hours after first suspecting abuse or neglect.A "professional" is anyone licensed or certified by the State or who is an employee of a facility licensed, certified or operated by the State and who, in the normal course of business activity, has direct contact with children. Common examples are doctors and nurses, teachers and day-care employees, though there are many other people who meet the definition of "professional". Additionally, there is no confidentiality privilege when it comes to reporting child abuse, so doctors, lawyers and clergy must report child abuse, even though conversations with these professionals are normally confidential.


Where to File a Report

If you suspect child abuse or neglect, you should immediately file a report with one of the following: (1) Any local or state law-enforcement agency; (2) The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services; (3) The state agency overseeing the facility in which the alleged abuse or neglect occurred; (4) If applicable, the agency designated by the court with the responsibility for protecting the children.


Contents of a Report

If you are making a report of child abuse or neglect, include as much of the following as possible: (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 about the abuse or neglect.


Is a Report Confidential?

Child abuse reporters remain anonymous except in three situations: (1) the reporter waives the right to confidentiality; (2) a court orders the reporter's identity to be revealed; or (3) a law-enforcement officer conducting a criminal investigation into the abuse or neglect requests the person's identity.


Do I Have any Liability if I File a Report that Turns Out to be Wrong?

So long as a person acts in good faith, a person is immune from civil and criminal liability for either reporting an alleged child abuse or testifying or participating in a judicial proceeding arising from a report of child abuse or neglect.However, if a person knowingly makes a false report, that person commits a state-jail felony and, in addition to jail time, could face a civil penalty of $1,000. Further, a person convicted of making a false report will have to pay the legal fees of the falsely accused person.In cases where one conservator of the child makes a false report against the other conservator of the child, a court can modify an existing possession order to limit the access of the false reporter to the children. Accordingly, it is very important if you are in a custody battle to not make false allegations of abuse.


What happens if I do not Make a Report?

If a person has reason to believe that a child is being subjected to abuse or neglect, and that person does not make a report to the appropriate agency, that person commits a Class A misdemeanor. If the child is mentally retarded and resides in a state-supported living center or a licensed facility, the person failing to make a report commits a felony for which jail time is possible.