Reporting:

I'm not sure what I can release and what is privileged.

Schools are allowed to release to DFPS all information needed to make a report of suspected child abuse or neglect.

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) was never intended to prohibit, delay, or otherwise interfere with reporting or providing information necessary to investigate suspected child abuse or neglect. The Texas Family Code requires everyone to report suspected child abuse, including medical professionals. HIPAA Privacy Rules authorizes the disclosure of protected health information to DFPS, without the need for an authorization from the individual, for purposes of reporting and investigating suspected child abuse or neglect. This is also addressed in the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act and The Texas Education Code.

To read more detail, visit TFC Section 261.101, HIPAA Privacy Rules, Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act 34 CFR § 99.31 and the Texas Education Code Section 38.004.

I made a report to Statewide Intake. What happens next?

If your information does not meet the definitions of abuse or neglect according to the Texas Family Code, your report will not be sent to a local office for investigation.

When making a report, answer all the questions as thoroughly as possible and provide detailed and descriptive information about the situation. This helps Statewide Intake more accurately assess the need for an investigation.

You will get a Report Identification number each time you make a report, unless you report anonymously. The Intake Specialist will tell you whether your report is likely to be sent on to a local office for investigation.

Is my information kept confidential? Will you ever release it to anyone? May I choose to remain anonymous?

Confidentiality

Your identity as a "reporter" is protected by law when you contact the Texas Abuse Hotline or website in good faith to report possible abuse or neglect. However, there are three specific circumstances under which DFPS is required to release a reporter's identity. DFPS must release your identity as a "reporter" to:

  1. Law enforcement as part of a criminal investigation.
  2. The court if instructed to do so under court order.
  3. Another state agency if the matter you are reporting falls under their jurisdiction.

A reporter's identity will only be disclosed if one of the above scenarios applies. Please note that DFPS is required to notify law enforcement in writing of all reports of child abuse or neglect. However, the reporter's identity and contact information is not disclosed during these routine notifications. Find out more about your options for reporting anonymously here.

Recognizing Abuse/Neglect:

What should I do if I think a child may have been abused or neglected, or if a child tells me about something that happened? Should I question the child? What is DFPS' position on school personnel photographing injuries or marks as part of an abuse report?

It is Child Protective Services' (CPS) position that school personnel should not be investigating allegations or suspicions of abuse or neglect. This is a Department of Family and Protective Services' responsibility. As soon as the school employee has pertinent information concerning the alleged or suspected abuse or neglect, a report must be made to the Texas Abuse Hotline. CPS recognizes that district or school policy may instruct certain employees, such as nurses or campus police, to document injuries on a child's body.

Reporter Protections and Obligations:

Many school employees are afraid to report allegations of abuse/neglect because of fears that the children and/or families involved are not legal residents and may be deported. How does DFPS respond to this concern?

DFPS is authorized to protect children regardless of a family's immigration status. Although immigration status may be relevant to certain specific benefits programs a family may choose to apply for, DFPS does not generally seek information on a family's immigration status, nor is the agency involved in any decisions relating to legal action against those who may be here illegally. All decisions related to possible deportation are handled by federal government agencies charged with those responsibilities.

Finally, regardless of the child's legal status, all school employees have an obligation under the law to report suspected abuse or neglect of children.

Is it true that those who report in good faith have legal immunity and are protected from employer retaliation?

The law requires any person who suspects abuse or neglect to report it. You are protected from civil or criminal liability as long as you make a report in good faith and without malicious intent. This is true even if DFPS determines that there was no abuse or neglect.

The Texas Family Code also specifies that an employer may not suspend or terminate the employment of, or otherwise discriminate against, a person who is a professional and who makes a report about suspected child abuse or neglect in good faith.

Visit the Texas Family Code Chapter 261 sections 106 and 110 for more details.

Are there potential legal issues for those who suspect abuse or neglect of a child but do not report it? What happens to people who make a false report?
  • You may be subject to criminal charges if you suspect abuse or neglect and you knowingly fail to report it.
  • You may be subject to civil and/or criminal liability if you knowingly file a false report (for example, telling DFPS the child has injuries when there clearly are none).

Visit the Texas Family Code Chapter 261 sections 107 and 109 for more detail.

Got Additional Questions or Concerns?