Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) investigators investigate reports of child abuse or neglect to determine if any child in the family has been abused or neglected. Investigators decide if there are any threats to the safety of all children in the home. If so, they determine whether the parents are willing and able to adequately manage those threats to keep children safe. If DFPS decides that children aren't safe, the investigator starts protective services.
In a DFPS investigation, an investigator may interview family members and others with knowledge to get enough information to make safety decisions. At the end of the investigation, DFPS makes a ruling on each allegation. This ruling is called a disposition. Dispositions include the following:
- Reason to believe: Abuse or neglect occurred based on a preponderance of the evidence. This means when all evidence is weighed, it is more likely than not that abuse or neglect occurred.
- Ruled out: Staff determines that it is reasonable to conclude that the abuse or neglect has not occurred based on the information that is available.
- Unable to Complete: The investigation cannot be concluded. This is usually because the family could not be located to begin the investigation or the family was contacted but later moved and could not be located to complete the investigation or the family refused to cooperate with the investigation. DFPS policy outlines several actions that the investigator must complete to make this disposition.
- Unable to determine: DFPS concludes that none of the dispositions above is appropriate.
- Administrative closure: DFPS intervention is unwarranted based on information that comes to light after the case is assigned for investigation.
The investigator must also decide if there is a reasonable likelihood that a child will be abused or neglected in the foreseeable future. The investigator does this by looking at important ways in which individuals and family behave.
There are two alternatives.
- The investigator concludes the children are safe because (a) no abuse or neglect is discovered and no threats to safety are identified in the current investigation or (b) the family appears willing and able, by using family and community resources, to deal with any safety threats and risk factors in their lives to ensure the safety of the child or children for the foreseeable future. If the investigator concludes that children are not at risk, then the case may be closed.
- The investigator concludes the children are unsafe if (a) the investigator finds significant safety threats and risk factors, and (b) the family appears unable or unwilling to use family and community resources to deal with the risk factors to ensure the safety of the child or children for the foreseeable future.
If the investigator concludes that the children are unsafe, the investigator may:
- Offer services to address the problem.
- Refer the case for family based safety services.
- File a petition to initiate civil court action to protect the victim. These court actions could include removing children from the home and possibly ending parental rights.
The investigator makes every attempt to complete investigations within 30 days from the date the report was received by the agency. However, the supervisor can approve an extension.
All reports must be referred to the appropriate law enforcement agency for possible criminal prosecution. During the 78th Regular Session, the Texas Legislature passed Senate Bill 669, requiring law enforcement to accompany DFPS investigators when responding to Priority 1 reports of abuse/neglect that involve children who appear to face immediate risk of physical or sexual abuse.
The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) runs a toll-free, statewide telephone hotline to take reports of suspected abuse or neglect. It is called the Texas Abuse Hotline. This hotline gives you a way to report:
- Child abuse and neglect.
- Abuse, neglect, and exploitation of adults who are 65 years of age or older or younger adults who have a disability.
- Abuse or neglect of persons living in licensed state schools, state hospitals, state centers and community-based centers when employees in those facilities are the alleged wrongdoers.
- Call the Texas Abuse Hotline number at 1-800-252-5400.
- You may also report abuse, neglect or exploitation at www.TxAbuseHotline.org.
- Professionals (like doctors, nurses, and teachers) are encouraged to use this website to report non-emergency situations to DFPS. All reports that meet the legal definitions of abuse and neglect are assigned a priority based on the level of risk and severity of harm to the child.
Reports of child abuse or neglect are classified in one of two priority groups and the priority of the intake determines how quickly an investigation begins. Trained intake staff assign the appropriate priority based on the information available at the time they get the report. A DFPS investigation supervisor may specify a more exact timeframe for starting the investigation.
Priority I Reports
Priority I reports include all reports of children who appear to face an immediate risk of abuse or neglect that could result in death or serious harm. Investigations of these reports must start within 24 hours of receiving the call report.
Priority II Reports
All reports of abuse or neglect that are not assigned as Priority I are assigned as Priority II. These are reports that contain allegations of abuse or neglect in which there does not appear to be an immediate threat of serious harm or death. A subset of these reports are sent down the Alternative Response pathway (see below). Those reports not sent to AR continue as a traditional investigation. DFPS must initiate investigation within 72 hours of receiving a Priority II report.
Alternative Response (AR)
Beginning in November 2014, DFPS implemented Alternative Response, which is a different way to respond to reports of abuse and neglect. AR allows for a more flexible, family-engaging approach while still focusing on the safety of the children. AR cases differ from traditional investigations in that there will be no substantiation of allegations, no entry of perpetrators into the Central Registry (a repository for reports of child abuse and neglect), and there will be a heightened focus on guiding the family to plan for safety in a way that works for them and therefore sustains the safety. All allegations and/or concerns are fully addressed. Initial contact to schedule an appointment is made within 24 hours, with assessment to begin by the fifth day.
Some reports do not meet the legal definition of abuse or neglect, as defined in the Texas Family Code, and are not assigned a priority or investigated.
Reasons for not assigning a report for investigation include:
- Situations that do not appear to involve a reasonable likelihood that a child will be abused or neglected in the foreseeable future.
- Allegations that are too vague or general to determine if a child has been or is likely to be abused or neglected.
- Reports with too little information to locate the child or the child's family or household.
- Situation that are already under investigation.