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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 June 2020

A caseworker may share information regarding a child or family during the course of an investigation, but only if it is necessary in order to conduct the investigation or protect the safety of the child.

The caseworker must obtain the supervisor’s approval before sharing such information.

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

  • Identifying information (name, description, possible whereabouts of the child or a family) used to locate the family being investigated. This includes identifying information about an alleged victim or perpetrator.
  • The fact that an investigation is being conducted.
  • Locating information for the child, family, alleged victim, or perpetrator being investigated, such as names, descriptions, or possible whereabouts.
  • 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 following purposes:
    • Completing the safety and risk assessments.
    • Concluding whether abuse or neglect has occurred (or to close an investigation administratively or as Unable to Complete).
    • Determining whether services are needed during or after an investigation.

The caseworker must not share any information that may jeopardize a criminal prosecution of the case or the identity of the reporter.

The caseworker must not share any information that may identify any biological sibling’s adoptive family or adoptive name.

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 June 2020

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

  • Name.
  • Age.
  • Ethnic group.
  • Physical description.
  • Social Security Number.
  • Former address and dates of residence.
  • Former employer and dates of employment.

The caseworker 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 June 2020

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

  • Local police reports.
  • Records received from DPS checks.
  • National Crime Information Center (NCIC) information obtained from FBI name-based or fingerprint checks.

Some exceptions are allowed, as described in:

1454.31 Exception Allowing Release of Information for Court and Administrative Hearings

1454.32 Exception Allowing Release of Information for Child Safety or 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 of Information for Court and Administrative Hearings

CPS June 2020

Criminal history records information may need to be released if:

  • The court orders the release.
  • 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 of Information for Child Safety or to Carry Out Certain DFPS Functions

CPS June 2020

A caseworker 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 Agreement

A caseworker may provide information to the caregiver being considered for a 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 June 2020

The caseworker may disclose otherwise confidential information to the parent or caregiver of a child who is an alleged victim of abuse or neglect in any of the following situations:

  • The alleged perpetrator is also in the home.
  • The alleged perpetrator is the subject of the criminal history information.
  • The caseworker and supervisor determine 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 caseworker should reveal as little information as possible about the household member’s criminal history, sharing only what is necessary to protect the child or adult’s health and safety.

1454.34 Criminal History Information Policy

CPS June 2020

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 June 2020

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 Sharing Information during an Open Investigation

CPS June 2020

When investigating reports of child abuse or neglect the caseworker may verbally share case narrative or other information contained in IMPACT on an open investigation with the following:

  • Local, state, or federal law enforcement and government officials.
  • A law enforcement or child protective services agency in another state.
  • Child Advocacy Centers (CAC) and the Forensic Assessment Network Center (FACN).

Before sharing any such information, if the caseworker and supervisor are unsure whether the requester is a person described above, the caseworker must call the main phone line of the requester’s office to confirm that the requester works there. The caseworker verifies in what capacity the requester is involved in DFPS’s case. 

Requests from Attorneys Representing DFPS

If the county or district attorney is representing DFPS in a suit affecting the parent-child relationship, the caseworker must provide the attorney all information requested in order for the attorney to represent DFPS. Before providing the documentation, the caseworker must clearly mark it as Confidential Draft, Subject to Change with a watermark or coversheet.

Requests about Another Caseworker’s Case

If the request is about another caseworker’s case, the caseworker must refer the requester to the caseworker or supervisor assigned to the case.

Requests from Law Enforcement about an Open Investigation

If law enforcement needs records during an open investigation, law enforcement must request the information as follows:

Information Contained in IMPACT

To obtain written case narratives or other information contained in IMPACT, law enforcement completes the Law Enforcement Request for Case Record Information form and submits it to DFPS’s Records Management Group (RMG).

The caseworker may only release case information contained in IMPACT if law enforcement has an immediate need for the written information contained in IMPACT and the supervisor has reviewed the written information and approve the release.

Before releasing the written information to law enforcement, the caseworker must clearly mark the document as Confidential Draft, Subject to Change with a watermark or coversheet.

External Documentation

External documentation can include any copies of the record that are final and not subject to change, such as photographs, court orders, or audio and video recordings.

The caseworker or supervisor provide copies of external documents to law enforcement.

Note: Law enforcement is entitled to an unredacted copy of the investigation report.

1454.42 Sharing Information after the Investigation is Closed

CPS June 2020

The caseworker refers a request for information to the Records Management Group (RMG) if the record is:

  • From a closed investigation.
  • Alternative Response, whether the case stage is open or closed.
  • Family-Based Safety Services, whether the case stage is open or closed.
  • Conservatorship, whether the case stage is open or closed.

The caseworker may verbally discuss closed cases with agencies whose identities are confirmed as described in 1454.32 Exception Allowing Release of Information for Child Safety or to Carry Out Certain DFPS Functions.

1454.43 Sharing Information with Law Enforcement about Criminal Activity at Any Case Stage

CPS June 2020

A caseworker may become aware of, or law enforcement may request, information about illegal or criminal behavior on the part of the child or the child’s family at any time during an active investigation, alternative response case, family-based safety services case, or conservatorship case.

If law enforcement requests case records or information in this situation, caseworkers must follow the procedures in 1454.41 Sharing Information during an Open Investigation or 1454.42 Sharing Information after the Investigation is Closed, as applicable.

If law enforcement has not requested any information, the caseworker consults with the supervisor to decide how to proceed. The supervisor may decide to consult with Legal before taking any action.

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

CPS June 2020

The caseworker 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 caseworker must try to ensure that the court is aware that identifying information about the reporter is confidential. When testifying in a protective services case, the caseworker must not identify the reporter without the reporter’s consent unless the judge specifically orders the caseworker to do so.

DFPS staff must direct requests for copies of the case record to the Records Management Group (RMG) mailbox for processing.

1454.6 Releasing Information to Attorneys and Guardians Ad Litem

CPS June 2020

An individual appointed 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

The caseworker 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 5240 Working With the Child's Attorney Ad Litem, Guardian Ad Litem, and CASA.

If requested, the caseworker must also share certain information with a parent’s or child’s attorney prior to an adversary hearing. See 5431 Requirements for the Adversary Hearing.

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

CPS June 2020

DFPS and the state Court-Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) office have entered into a Memorandum of Understanding that outlines what information can be shared with the child’s CASA and how it can be shared.

Before sharing information the caseworker ensures that the CASA 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 is authorized to access, and whether records must be redacted. If the caseworker has concerns regarding the scope of the order the caseworker or supervisor ask the CASA to request clarification from the court.

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

  • DFPS court reports and all records filed with the court
  • Child’s educational records
  • Child’s physical and mental health records
  • DFPS 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 or alcohol records for the child if child provides written permission
  • Home studies of potential placements (foster, relative and adoptive) as selected by the worker
  • Residential Treatment Center (RTC) or Child Placing Agency (CPA) Individual Plan of Service
  • Placement: Common Application
  • Placement: Serious Incident Reports

If a CASA is appointed to a case for which there are no records yet available, the worker may provide the CASA 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 June 2020

Caseworkers must protect locating information for victims of family violence, sexual assault, trafficking, or stalking when the family is a participant in the Office of Attorney General (OAG) Address Confidentiality Program.

See 2342 OAG Address Confidentiality.

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