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Mandatory Reporting Requirements

Mandatory Reporting Requirement Law in Texas

Mandatory Reporting Requirement in Texas

Mandatory Reporting refers to the legal obligation of individuals to report suspected cases of child abuse or neglect to the appropriate authorities. Most people think that mandatory reporting only applies to certain professionals. This is incorrect. Mandatory reporting applies to everyone in Texas. The question is really not “who” has to report? The question is really, “what” circumstances require reporting?

The common misconception regarding professionals stems from the fact that certain professionals do, in fact, have a heightened duty to report, specifying how quickly they have to report, and making their duty to report non-delegable.

Who has a mandatory reporting requirement in Texas?

Pursuant to Family Code Section 261.101, Texas says that any “person” who has reasonable cause to believe abuse or neglect is occurring has a duty to report it.

What qualifies as abuse or neglect that falls under the mandatory reporting requirement in Texas?

When the victim’s “physical or mental health or welfare has been adversely affected” by abuse or neglect, the mandatory reporting requirement kicks in.

What class of victims does the mandatory reporting requirement apply to in Texas?

Family Code Section 261.101 makes the mandatory reporting requirement applicable to any child.

Who is a child?

Family Code Section 101.003 defines a child as:

  • A “child” or “minor” is defined as a person under 18 years of age who:
    • Is not and has not been married: This means the person has never been legally married.
    • Has not had the disabilities of minority removed for general purposes: This refers to legal emancipation, where a court has granted the minor adult status for most legal purposes, effectively removing the legal disabilities associated with being a minor.

Reasonable Cause to Believe

How strong does the belief have to be?

In 2021, Texas changed this law from “cause to believe” to “reasonable cause to believe.” This was to limit the circumstances under which an applicable professional or other person has a duty to report child abuse or neglect. The duty to report now applies only when the professional or person has reasonable cause to believe that reportable conduct has occurred.

A person who, with due diligence and in good faith, timely determines whether they are required to make a report does not commit an offense if they reasonably determine they lack reasonable cause to make the report. The bill expressly states that a person is not required to act with due diligence to determine whether a report must be made.

Texas Law on Mandatory Reporting in Detail

Who Must Report

In Texas, mandatory reporting requirements are outlined primarily in the Texas Family Code. Here are key aspects:

Who is Required to Report:

  • General Public: Texas law requires any person who suspects child abuse or neglect to report it. This means that everyone, regardless of their profession, has a duty to report. See Texas Family Code § 261.101(a).
  • Professionals: Certain professionals, such as teachers, doctors, nurses, daycare employees, and others who work with children, have a legal obligation to report suspected abuse or neglect within 48 hours of suspecting it. See Texas Family Code § 261.101(b).

professionals with mandatory reporting requirements

Understanding the Term “Professional” in Simple Terms

In the context of mandatory reporting of child abuse or neglect in Texas, here’s what “professional” means:

Definition of a Professional:

  • Licensed or Certified Individuals:
    • A professional is someone who has a license or certification from the state. This means they have official approval to do their job from the state government.
    • These individuals must have direct contact with children as part of their job duties.
  • Employees of State-Licensed Facilities:
    • This also includes people who work at places that are licensed, certified, or operated by the state, which has given them permission to operate.
    • These employees must also have direct contact with children as part of their job duties.

Examples of Professionals:

  • Teachers: Educators who work in schools.
  • Nurses: Medical professionals providing health care.
  • Doctors: Physicians who treat patients.
  • Day-care Employees: Workers at child care centers.
  • Clinic or Health Care Facility Employees: Staff at clinics, especially those that provide reproductive health services.
  • Juvenile Probation Officers: Officers who supervise young people on probation.
  • Juvenile Detention or Correctional Officers: Officers who work at juvenile detention centers or correctional facilities.

A “professional” is, in short, someone who is either licensed or certified by the state or works for a state-approved facility, and who regularly works with children as part of their job. This includes roles like teachers, nurses, doctors, day-care workers, and more. These professionals have a special responsibility to report any suspected child abuse or neglect.

What are Heightened Responsibilities for Professionals?

Category Professionals General Public
Legal Reference Texas Family Code § 261.101(b) Texas Family Code § 261.101(a)
Who Must Report Licensed or certified individuals or employees of state-licensed facilities who have direct contact with children. Any person who has reasonable cause to believe a child’s physical or mental health or welfare has been affected by abuse or neglect.
When to Report Within 48 hours of first suspecting that a child has been, may be, or is being abused or neglected, or is a victim of an offense under Section 21.11, Penal Code (indecency with a child). Immediately upon having reasonable cause to believe that a child’s physical or mental health or welfare has been adversely affected by abuse or neglect.
Delegation of Reporting Cannot delegate the duty to report to someone else. Must report personally. Can report personally; no specific restriction on delegation but must ensure a report is made.
Scope of Reporting Must report if they believe the child:

  • Has been abused or neglected
  • May be abused or neglected (potential for abuse)
  • Is a victim of specific offenses (e.g., Section 21.11, Penal Code – indecency with a child)
Must report if they believe a child’s physical or mental health or welfare has been adversely affected by abuse or neglect.
Standard for Reporting Suspicion that the child has been, may be, or is being abused or neglected. Reasonable Cause to Believe that the child’s physical or mental health or welfare has been adversely affected by abuse or neglect.
Examples of Professionals Teachers, nurses, doctors, day-care employees, clinic or health care facility employees, juvenile probation officers, juvenile detention or correctional officers. Includes all individuals, regardless of profession.

Explanation of the Differences

  • Who Must Report:
    • Professionals: This category includes those in specific licensed roles or positions that require direct contact with children, such as teachers and doctors.
    • General Public: Encompasses everyone, regardless of their profession or role.
  • When to Report:
    • Professionals: Must report within 48 hours of suspecting that a child has been, may be, or is being abused or neglected, or if the child is a victim of specific offenses like indecency with a child (Section 21.11, Penal Code).
    • General Public: Must report immediately upon having reasonable cause to believe that abuse or neglect has occurred.
  • Delegation of Reporting:
    • Professionals: Cannot delegate this responsibility; they must make the report themselves.
    • General Public: No specific restriction, but the individual must ensure that the report is made.
  • Scope of Reporting:
    • Professionals: Must report if they believe the child:
      • Has been abused or neglected.
      • May be abused or neglected (potential for abuse).
      • Is a victim of specific offenses, such as:
      • Indecency with a Child (Section 21.11, Penal Code): This includes sexual contact or exposure.
    • General Public: Must report if they believe the child’s health or welfare has already been adversely affected by abuse or neglect.
  • Standard for Reporting:
    • Professionals: A suspicion that the child has been, may be, or is being abused or neglected is sufficient to trigger the reporting requirement.
    • General Public: Reasonable cause to believe that the child’s physical or mental health or welfare has been adversely affected by abuse or neglect is required to make a report.

Types of Events to Report

Mandatory Reporting of Current Events

The mandatory requirement for reporting applies immediately for the general public and within 48 hours for professionals for current abuse pursuant to 261.101.

past abuse mandatory reporting requirement

Mandatory Reporting of Past Abuse

Report of past abuse is mandatory regarding an adult who was abused in the past as a child IF they have reasonable cause to believe that an adult was a victim of abuse or neglect as a child, and they determine in good faith that disclosing this information is necessary to protect the health and safety of:

  • Another Child
  • An Elderly Person or Person with a Disability as defined by Section 48.002, Human Resources Code

What must the report include?

Under Texas Family Code § 261.102, the content of the report that must be made by a person or professional who suspects child abuse or neglect is specified. Here’s what the report should include:

Matters to be Reported

A report should reflect the reporter’s belief that:

  • A Child Has Been Abused or Neglected:
    • The report should indicate that the reporter believes a child has been subject to abuse or neglect.
  • A Child May Be Abused or Neglected:
    • The report should reflect that the reporter believes there is a possibility that a child may be abused or neglected in the future.
  • A Child Has Died of Abuse or Neglect:
    • If the reporter believes that a child’s death was caused by abuse or neglect, this should also be included in the report.

Key Points to Include in the Report:

  • Identification of the Child:
    • Provide any identifying information about the child, such as name, age, and address, if known.
  • Nature and Extent of the Abuse or Neglect:
    • Describe the nature and extent of the abuse or neglect, including any physical or behavioral indicators observed.
  • Basis of the Reporter’s Belief:
    • Explain the basis of the belief that the child has been or may be abused or neglected, or has died due to abuse or neglect. This could include specific observations, statements made by the child or others, or other information that led to the suspicion.
  • Information about the Suspected Perpetrator:
    • If known, include information about the person suspected of being responsible for the abuse or neglect.
  • Any Other Relevant Information:
    • Include any additional information that might help in the investigation and protection of the child, such as the child’s current location or any immediate safety concerns.

How to Report

Texas Family Code § 261.103 outlines where reports of suspected child abuse or neglect should be made. Here’s a breakdown of the requirements and options for reporting:

(a) Primary Reporting Agencies

Except as provided by Subsections (b) and (c) and Section 261.405, a report should be made to one of the following agencies:

  • Local or State Law Enforcement Agency:
    • Reports can be made to any local police department or the state law enforcement authorities.
  • The Department:
    • This refers to the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS). DFPS Hotline: 1-800-252-5400 DFPS Online Reporting: Texas Abuse Hotline Website
  • State Agency Overseeing the Facility:
    • If the alleged abuse or neglect occurred in a facility that is operated, licensed, certified, or registered by a state agency, the report should be made to that specific state agency.

(b) Special Reporting Option

A report may be made to the Texas Juvenile Justice Department (TJJD) instead of the entities listed under Subsection (a) if the following conditions are met:

  • Context: The report is based on information provided by a child while under the supervision of the Texas Juvenile Justice Department.
  • Allegation: The information concerns the child’s alleged abuse of another child.

Failing to Report Suspected Child Abuse

Failing to report suspected child abuse can have serious legal and ethical consequences, especially for professionals who are mandated reporters, such as teachers, doctors, and social workers. In Texas, the law specifies the duty to report and the penalties for failing to do so.

Legal Consequences

Criminal Penalties

Under Texas Family Code, Section 261.109, a person who fails to report suspected child abuse or neglect can face criminal charges. This is classified as a Class A misdemeanor, which can include a fine up to $4,000, up to one year in jail, or both.

Civil Penalties

In some cases, if a failure to report leads to further harm or injury to a child, the individual who failed to report might also face civil lawsuits for damages resulting from negligence.

Sec. 261.109 Failure to Report; Penalties

(a) A person commits an offense if the person has cause to believe that a child’s physical or mental health or welfare has been adversely affected by abuse or neglect and knowingly fails to report as provided in this chapter.

(b) An offense under this section is a Class A misdemeanor.

The offense also becomes a state jail felony if the person who was required to report is a professional and it is shown at trial that the actor intended to conceal the abuse or neglect if it is shown on the trial of the offense that the actor intended to conceal the abuse or neglect

No Privilege Exception for Mandatory Reporting

Under Texas law, if you’re one of the professionals listed below, you are required to report suspected child abuse or neglect regardless of any confidentiality norms typically associated with your profession:

  • Attorneys: Even though attorney-client privilege is a cornerstone of legal advice, when it comes to suspected child abuse or neglect, attorneys must report it.
  • Clergy Members: Confidential confessions or pastoral communications are not exempt; clergy are required to report as well.
  • Medical Practitioners: This includes doctors, nurses, and other health care providers who might otherwise keep medical information private under HIPAA regulations.
  • Social Workers and Mental Health Professionals: Despite typically being bound by client confidentiality to protect the privacy of those they serve, they must report if they suspect abuse.
  • Licensing Board Members or Employees: Those involved in licensing or certifying professionals must report suspected abuse, even if they learn about it through their professional capacity.
  • Employees of Clinics or Health Care Facilities Providing Reproductive Services: Their professional obligations to report override any privacy concerns related to patient care.

Legal Consequences of Concealing Abuse

If a professional who is mandated to report child abuse or neglect fails to do so and it is demonstrated during the trial that this failure was intended to conceal the abuse or neglect, the offense is elevated to a state jail felony.

Anonymous Reporting No Longer Permitted

As of September 1, 2023, Texas no longer accepts anonymous reports of child abuse and neglect. Previously, individuals could anonymously report child abuse or neglect in Texas. Section 261.104 of the Texas Family Code now requires:

Identification Requirements

Reporters must provide their name and telephone number (Section 261.104(a)(4)).

Handling Anonymous Calls

If a reporter refuses to provide identifying information when using the designated toll-free number, department representatives must inform them that anonymous reports cannot be accepted (Section 261.104(b)).

In Texas, everyone is a mandatory reporter when it comes to suspected child abuse. This applies to both past and present events, ensuring that all suspicions are investigated to protect children. Even if the abuse occurred decades ago, you are still legally required to report it. If you have been accused of failing to report abuse, it’s important to contact an experienced defense attorney right away. We can help. Call 817-203-2220 to schedule a consultation with a seasoned defense attorney at Varghese Summersett.

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