March 6, 2013
TO THE ADMINISTRATOR ADDRESSED:
Re: Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting and Requirements
The purpose of this letter is to remind school districts and open-enrollment charter schools of important statutory requirements for schools related to child abuse and neglect, to encourage administrators to adopt policies and practices that promote awareness of child abuse and neglect reporting, and to disseminate free resources that are available to help protect Texas children. The Texas Family Code (TFC) Chapter 261, Texas Education Code (TEC) §38.004 and §38.0041, and Texas Administration Code (TAC) §61.1051 govern mandatory child abuse and neglect reporting, policy development, required child abuse anti-victimization programs, and related professional development provisions for schools.
The public education system plays an important role in reporting suspected abuse and neglect of Texas’ children. School personnel represent the largest professional resource for reporting suspected child abuse and neglect in Texas. Of the 199,474 completed investigations of suspected child abuse and neglect conducted by the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) in 2012, 35,100, or 17.6%, were reported by school personnel. At the same time, many instances of child abuse and neglect may go unreported. Increasing awareness about child abuse and neglect, including mandatory reporting laws, is important to protect children attending Texas public schools. Education leaders can promote awareness of Texas laws, and the important role of school personnel to report suspected abuse and neglect, by developing effective reporting policies, programs and staff development.
One important way to promote awareness is to post information on child abuse reporting in schools. School districts are encouraged to post the Texas Abuse and Neglect Hotline Number, and how to report online, in public school buildings for easy viewing by faculty, students and visitors. Following is an example of information that should be visibly posted in high traffic areas in each public school building:
What must I do if I suspect abuse or neglect of a child?
If a child is in immediate danger, call 911 or your local police first.
Then call the Texas Abuse Hotline to make a report.
The Texas Abuse Hotline is open 24/7/365
(Report via the online reporting system for non-urgent situations only. A non-urgent situation means that intervention is not needed within 24 hours.)
School District Duties:
Adopt, Implement & Review Policies
In accordance with TFC §261, TEC §38.004, §38.0041 and TAC §61.1051, school boards are required to adopt policies for reporting child abuse and neglect that are in compliance with these provisions and must review them at least annually. Policies must be distributed to school personnel at the beginning of each academic year and addressed in staff development programs at regular intervals as determined by the board. All school personnel, agents and contractors are mandated to report suspected child abuse and neglect according to Texas law. Generally, TFC §261.101 states that a person having cause to believe that a child’s physical or mental health or welfare has been adversely affected by abuse or neglect by any person shall immediately make a report. Any suspicion of abuse and neglect must be reported within 48 hours, or less as determined by the local school board, by the person(s) who observed the suspected abuse and neglect. School personnel may not rely on another person or administrator within the school district to report suspected child abuse or neglect for them. Local policies may not require that school personnel report suspicions of child abuse or neglect to an administrator before reporting suspicions to DFPS or law enforcement. School districts are required to cooperate with law enforcement in child abuse investigations; including investigations by DFPS. TAC §61.1051 requires that local policies notify school personnel of penalties for failure to submit a required report of child abuse or neglect, and sets forth other requirements.
School districts and open-enrollment charter schools are also required to adopt and implement a policy addressing sexual abuse and other maltreatment of children in accordance with TEC §38.0041. This policy is to be included in the district improvement plan and in any informational handbook provided to students and parents. The policy must address a wide variety of abuse and neglect information including:
- Methods for increasing staff, student, and parent awareness of issues regarding sexual abuse and other maltreatment of children, including prevention techniques and knowledge of likely warning signs indicating that a child may be a victim of sexual abuse or other maltreatment, using resources developed by the agency under TEC §38.004;
- Actions that a child who is a victim of sexual abuse or other maltreatment should take to obtain assistance and intervention; and
- Available counseling options for students affected by sexual abuse or other maltreatment.
TEC §38.004, TAC §61.1051 and TEC §38.0041, sets forth training and documentation requirements. TEC §38.0041 outlines specific training requirements for school districts and open-enrollment charters on addressing child abuse and neglect; including sexual abuse and other maltreatment of children. The statute governs when districts are to provide training for new employees, and the type of information they are to address during the training. The statute requires districts and charters to keep records of school staff that participate and complete required trainings.
Several free training resources are available to help address statutory requirements. Training materials are available regarding: 1) how to identify signs of suspected abuse or neglect; 2) how to properly communicate with students; 3) the processes for reporting, where to report; and 4) what happens after a report is made. These training resources may be used in conjunction with other resources and information offered by districts and open-enrollment charter schools to fulfill required training components. See attached resource page for more information on available trainings.
Implement Anti-Victimization Programs
In addition to child abuse reporting and training addressed by TEC §38.004, TEC §38.004(b) requires that each school district provide child abuse anti-victimization programs in elementary and secondary schools. Just as educators play an important role in child abuse or neglect reporting, educators also play a critical role in preventing child abuse, sexual abuse, neglect, victimization and other forms of child maltreatment. District leaders may visit TEA’s Prevention of Child Abuse website for resources and information to assist with child abuse anti-victimization programs and child abuse prevention programs in schools.
School districts, open-enrollment charter schools and school employees are essential to protecting Texas children from abuse, neglect and other maltreatment. TEA appreciates your efforts to properly identify and report suspected child abuse and neglect; as well as your efforts to prevent child abuse.
Michael L. Williams
Commissioner of Education
Attachment: Child Abuse and Neglect Resources for Texas Schools