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1450 Confidentiality of Information

CPS July 2014

Information about a CPS case or client is generally confidential and may not be released except as authorized by federal and state law, regulations and rules, court orders, or attorney general opinions.

1451 Sharing Confidential Information

CPS July 2014

A worker may be asked to share information with non-DFPS entities to protect or serve a child or family who is or was the subject of an abuse or neglect investigation or who received services from DFPS.

The law allows a worker to share case information with non-DFPS entities responsible for the child’s protection, diagnosis, care, treatment, supervision, or education when necessary to meet a child’s needs.

Texas Family Code §261.201(a)

DFPS Rules, 40 TAC §700.203(a)(12)

What information can be shared in a particular situation depends on the:

  •  type of information that is requested or needs to be shared;

  •  person who is requesting the information or who needs the information;

  •  purpose for which they need the information; and

  •  stage of service the case is in.

1452 Statutory Overview

CPS July 2014

Confidentiality of child abuse and neglect records and information (including records and information relating to reports, investigations, legal actions, and the provision of services to children and families) is governed by a combination of federal and state laws and regulations.

The primary controlling federal laws include:

  •  Section 106 of the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA), codified at 42 U.S.C. 5106a; and

  •  Section 471 of Title IV-E of the Social Security Act, codified at 42 U.S.C. 671(a)(8), and related federal rules at 45 CFR 1355.30 & 45 CFR 205.50.

State law has incorporated these two federal laws into state law and rules as follows:

  •  the Family Code, at Section 261.201, and related provisions in Chapter 261 and 264;

  •  Human Resources Code Section 40.005; and

  •  related DFPS rules in 40 TAC §700.201-209, and 40 TAC §702.301-317.

These laws provide the statutory basis for the agency policies regarding confidentiality and the sharing of child welfare information outlined in the following sections.

1453 Requests for Case Records

CPS July 2014

Case records are records collected, developed, or used in a child abuse or neglect investigation or in providing services as a result of an investigation, and which are under the custody and control of DFPS. It includes files, reports, records, communications, audiotapes, videotapes, photographs, and working papers used or developed in the investigation, or in providing services such as foster care or family based services. It also includes any information regarding a report of suspected abuse or neglect and the identity of the person making the report.

The agency’s Records Management Group (RMG) is responsible for fulfilling requests for case records the agency receives from outside parties when the release is authorized by law and rule.

The RMG unit also processes requests for case records from internal users, performing the appropriate redaction and returning the records to the internal requester for release and handling.

In most cases, the department may not release a CPS case record until the CPS investigation is closed.

If a worker receives a request for a copy of all or part of a child or family’s case records from an individual outside of DFPS, the worker generally refers the individual to the DFPS website link How to Request Copies of Case Records. Policy in this section describes situations in which information may be shared directly without going through the RMG unit.

1454 Releasing Information for the Safety or Protection of a Child or Family, or for Legal Processes

1454.1 Sharing Information During the Course of an Investigation

CPS July 2014

With supervisor approval, a CPS worker may share information regarding a child or family during the course of an investigation only as necessary to conduct the investigation or protect the safety of the child.

Specific types of information that can be shared with appropriate persons or entities include:

  •  Identifying information (name, description, possible whereabouts of the child or a family) in order to locate the family being investigated, including an alleged victim or perpetrator.

  •  The fact that an investigation is being conducted.

  •  Enough information regarding the alleged abuse or neglect to solicit meaningful responses from alleged victims, alleged perpetrators, other principals in the investigation, witnesses, and collateral sources for the purpose of:

  •  completing the safety and risk assessments,

  •  concluding whether abuse or neglect has occurred (or to close an investigation administratively or as “unable to complete”), and

  •  determining whether services are needed during or after an investigation.

The worker must be careful not to share any information that may jeopardize a criminal prosecution of the case or the identity of the reporter. The worker consults with his or her supervisor if unsure whether the release of information is necessary and permissible in any particular situation.

For additional guidance on sharing information during the course of an investigation, see:

1454.2 Releasing Information to Locate Missing Parents or Children

1454.3 General Prohibition Against the Release of Criminal History Records Information

1454.4 Releasing Information to Law Enforcement Agencies, Out-of-State Child Protective Services Agencies, and County, District, or Prosecuting Attorneys

1454.8 Protecting Locating Information of Family Violence Victims

1454.2 Releasing Information to Locate Missing Parents or Children

CPS July 2014

When trying to locate a missing parent or child during an investigation or for other reasons related to a case, the worker may release identifying information about the parent, primary caregiver or child to individuals who may have information regarding that person, including the person’s:

  •  name;

  •  age;

  •  ethnic group;

  •  physical description;

  •  social security number;

  •  former address;

  •  former employer; and

  •  pertinent dates.

The worker must not release information that is not needed to locate the parent, caregiver, family, or child.  

1454.3 General Prohibition Against the Release of Criminal History Records Information

CPS July 2014

State and federal law and policy prohibit DFPS from disclosing criminal history records information received from any federal, state or local law enforcement agency, including, but not limited to:

  •  local police reports;

  •  records received from DPS checks; or

  •  FBI name-based or fingerprint checks/National Crime Information Center (NCIC) information.

Some exceptions are allowed, as described in:

1454.31 Exception Allowing Release: Court and Administrative Hearings

1454.32 Exception Allowing Release: Worker Release to Carry Out Certain DFPS Functions

1454.33 Releasing Information for the Child’s Safety

1454.34 Criminal History Information Policy

1454.35 Texas Law Enforcement Telecommunications System (TLETS)

1454.31 Exception Allowing Release: Court and Administrative Hearings

CPS July 2014

Criminal history records information may need to be released if:

  •  the court orders the release; or

  •  an administrative hearing is being held that concerns the person who is the subject of the criminal history information.

Texas Government Code §411.114(a)(6)

1454.32 Exception Allowing Release: Worker Release to Carry Out Certain DFPS Functions

CPS July 2014

A worker may need to disclose information obtained from a criminal records search to protect the safety of a child when an investigation is taking place, or when an interstate, kinship, or foster placement is being considered.

Parental Child Safety Placement

A worker may provide information to the caregiver being considered for a proposed Parental Child Safety Placement (PCSP) when the PCSP will not be made, or when the PCSP will be made but a caregiver or household member has a criminal history.

Employee of Services Provider

A worker may provide criminal history about a proposed or current employee or volunteer to a Supervised Independent Living (SIL) or Supervised Visitation provider that contracts with DFPS to provide services to young adults receiving extended foster care services. This can include information on a person 14 years of age or older who will be working or staying in a SIL host home providing services.

Home Studies

A worker may provide criminal history about a proposed foster or adoptive family to a business or organization that contracts with DFPS to conduct home screenings or home studies for DFPS for purposes of foster or adoptive home development, including kinship assessments for prospective kinship placements.

Information provided for use in a home study should be shared in its entirety, or may be summarized. Information should be shared electronically if possible. If electronic transmission is not possible, it may be printed and submitted to the contractor. Printed criminal history information must be stored or destroyed according to Records Management Group Handbook, 2540 Handling Criminal History Record Information.

1454.33 Releasing Information for the Child’s Safety

CPS July 2014

CPS may disclose the information to the parent or caregiver of a child who is an alleged victim of abuse or neglect if:

  •  the alleged perpetrator is also in the home;

  •  the alleged perpetrator is the subject of the criminal history information; and

  •  CPS determines that the release of information to the parent or caregiver is necessary to ensure the safety or welfare of the child or the adult.

The worker should only share the minimum information necessary regarding the household member’s criminal history that is directly related to protecting the child or adult’s health and safety.

1454.34 Criminal History Information Policy

CPS July 2014

For information on how criminal history record information may be released, such as when the information can be printed and when it can only be conveyed verbally, when it may be stored and when it must be destroyed, and other related information, see Records Management Group Handbook, 2540 Handling Criminal History Record Information.

1454.35 Texas Law Enforcement Telecommunications System (TLETS)

CPS July 2014

For information specific to criminal history record information obtained through the Texas Law Enforcement Telecommunications System (TLETS), see the TLETS Handbook.

1454.4 Releasing Information to Law Enforcement Agencies, Out-of-State Child Protective Services Agencies, and County, District, or Prosecuting Attorneys
1454.41 Information About an Open Case

CPS July 2014

A CPS worker may share information for the purpose of investigating reports of child abuse or neglect with:

  •  local, state or federal law enforcement and government officials;

  •  a law enforcement or child protective services agency in another state; or

  •  a county or district attorney who is or may be representing the state in a legal proceeding arising out of the investigation or arising out of unsafe conditions that occur while services are being provided after the investigation.

If the worker is familiar with the individual requesting the information and identity confirmation is not needed, and the request is regarding an open case to which the worker is assigned, the worker may verbally share any information regarding the case. The worker cooperates fully with the requester, including directing the individual or office asking for the information to the appropriate person if the worker receiving the request is not the worker assigned to the case.

If the worker and the worker’s supervisor are unsure whether the requester is one of the entities described above, the worker conducts an Internet search for the location and main phone number of the agency or office the requester claims to work for. The worker calls the main telephone line of that office and asks for the individual who requested that information. If the worker confirms that the requester works for an appropriate government agency, the worker may share information regarding the case.

1454.42 Information About Criminal Activity at Any Case Stage

CPS July 2014

A worker may become aware of, or law enforcement may request information about, illegal or criminal behavior on the part of the youth or the youth’s family at any time during an active CPS investigation, Family Based Safety Services case, or conservatorship case.

In these situations the worker and supervisor consult with the program director in their chain of command about sharing information regarding any known criminal or delinquent behavior. The program director will make a determination on how to proceed or will consult with additional agency staff as needed.

See the Juvenile Justice Resource Guide.

1454.43 Closed Case Records

CPS July 2014

Unless a request indicates an immediate need for information from a closed case to protect a child or investigate possible abuse or neglect, the worker refers a request for a closed case record to the Records Management Group (RMG). The worker may verbally discuss closed cases with agencies whose identities are confirmed as described in 1454.32 Exception Allowing Release: Worker Release to Carry Out Certain DFPS Functions.

1454.5 Releasing Information to the Family Court, or to Comply With a Court Order

CPS July 2014

The worker may provide information about a DFPS case to the family court having jurisdiction over the case when ordered by the court, when submitting affidavits or testifying under oath, or when providing required court reports.

Texas Family Code §§261.201(b) and (c), 266.007

The worker must try to ensure that the court is aware that identifying information about the reporter is confidential. When testifying in a protective services case, DFPS staff must not identify the reporter without the reporter’s consent unless the judge specifically orders staff to do so. There may be other instances in which the worker may be directed or required to release information to the court. The worker consults with the regional attorney (through the worker’s supervisor) for guidance.

Requests for copies of the case record must be directed to the Record Management Group (RMG) mailbox for processing (DFPS RECORDS MANAGEMENT GROUP (RECORDSMGMT@dfps.state.tx.us).

1454.6 Releasing Information to Court-Appointed Attorneys and Guardians Ad Litem

CPS July 2014

An individual appointed by a court to represent the child, such as an attorney ad litem, guardian ad litem, or Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) appointed as the guardian ad litem, is authorized to have immediate access to any information relating to the child to assist in representing the best interests of the child.

Texas Family Code §§107.002, 107.006

Staff must ensure that the individual has a valid court order that confirms the individual’s appointment before sharing information.

For specific requirements and timelines regarding sharing information and working with the child’s attorney and guardian ad litem see 5230 Working With the Child's Attorney Ad Litem, Guardian Ad Litem, and CASA.

1454.7 Sharing Information With Court-Appointed Special Advocates Staff and Volunteers

CPS July 2014

In cases where a Court-Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) is appointed for a child, DFPS and the state CASA office have entered into a Memorandum of Understanding that outlines what information can be shared with the CASA and how it can be shared.

Before sharing information the worker ensures that the individual has a valid court order or a notification letter of volunteer assignment and acceptance that confirms the individual’s appointment.

The CASA may be appointed as the guardian ad litem for the child, or just as a volunteer advocate.

The court order appointing the CASA may or may not be specific about which exact records the CASA volunteer or staff is authorized to access, and whether the CASA may access the records in unredacted form. The worker or the worker’s supervisor may need to ask the CASA volunteer to request clarification from the court regarding CASA’s authority for additional access to records if the worker has concerns regarding the scope of the order.

If the court order is clear, the worker provides the types of records the order directs. The records will usually include:

  •  CPS court reports and all records filed with the court

  •  Child’s educational records

  •  Child’s physical and mental health records

  •  CPS caseworker narratives (view only)

  •  Psychological reports regarding the child, including trauma screen and assessment information

  •  Plans of service for child and family

  •  Parent-Child Visitation plan

  •  Drug/alcohol records for the child if child provides written permission

  •  Home studies of potential placements (foster, relative and adoptive) as selected by the worker

  •  RTC or CPA Individual Plan of Service

  •  Placement Common Application

  •  Placement Serious Incident Reports

If a CASA volunteer is appointed to a case for which there are no records yet available, the worker may provide the CASA staff or volunteer with verbal information until records are available.

See also 6939.4 Meeting to Discuss the Potential Adoptive Families.

1454.8 Protecting Locating Information of Family Violence Victims

CPS July 2014

Caseworkers must protect locating information for victims of family violence, sexual assault, trafficking or stalking when the Address Confidentiality Program has been invoked.

See 2342 OAG Address Confidentiality.

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