Teddy bear sitting on a windowsill facing the outside in a darkened room

In Texas, all individuals, regardless of profession, are required to report suspected child abuse or neglect to the appropriate authorities. The requirement is so broad that it even overrides otherwise protected communications.

The trauma caused by childhood sexual abuse can cause ripples throughout the child’s lifetime. Victims should speak with a Dallas sexual abuse victim lawyer who can inform them of their rights to file a lawsuit seeking compensation against the individual abuser or institution that harbored them.

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Who Must Report Suspected Abuse In Texas?

Under Texas Family Code Section 261.101, anyone who suspects child abuse or neglect must report it immediately.

The mandatory reporting laws for child sexual abuse in Texas are more stringent than in most states, where mandated reporters may be limited to certain professions. In Texas, professionals like teachers, doctors, daycare employees, and others who operate subject to a state license must make the report within 48 hours of first suspecting the abuse or neglect. This report may not be delegated to another. Other individuals must report the abuse immediately.

Certain professionals like doctors, lawyers, and the clergy are typically subjected to privilege communications; those who confide in them in the course of their professional roles are guaranteed confidentiality. However, the mandated reporter law trumps this, so these professionals must report suspected abuse even if the knowledge came from protected communications.

Where To Report Suspected Abuse Or Neglect

Required reports should be directed to the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) when the suspected abuser is someone who has custody or lives in the home with the child or is otherwise responsible for their care or welfare. Child Protective Services (CPS), a division of DFPS, carries out civil investigations of alleged abuse or neglect by members of the child’s household or other caregivers. The civil investigation focuses on the welfare of the child.

Suspected abuse may also be reported to local or state law enforcement. These agencies carry out criminal investigations.

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Consequences Of Failure To Report

Failing to report suspected abuse or neglect of a child is a criminal offense. It is a Class A Misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $4,000 and up to one year in prison.

Those faced with the need to make a report may worry about being sued. However, the reporting statute provides that those who make a report in good faith are protected from both civil and criminal liability. This means that if you are faced with making a report, you will be protected from lawsuits and criminal prosecution.

What Constitutes “Abuse” and “Neglect” In Texas?

To report suspected abuse or neglect, one must know what is deemed abusive under state statute. Under Section 261.001 of the Texas Family Code, “abuse” and “neglect” are specific acts or omissions by a child’s caregiver or another party responsible for their welfare.

“Abuse” includes, but is not limited to:

  • Mental or emotional injury to a child that impairs the child’s growth, development, or psychological functioning
  • Causing or failing to prevent physical injury resulting in substantial harm, genuine threat of substantial harm, or injury that does not align with the explanation given
  • Committing or failing to prevent harmful sexual conduct, including acts of indecency, sexual assault, or aggravated sexual assault

“Neglect” includes:

  • Leaving a child where they would be exposed to substantial risk without arranging for necessary care while demonstrating the intent not to return
  • Failing to seek medical care in cases where the child faces a substantial risk
  • Failing to provide a child with food, clothing, or shelter as necessary where financially able

These are a sampling of the situations that can require a report. Speak with a Dallas personal injury attorney for more personalized advice.

Can a Victim be Forced to Testify?  

Child sexual abuse causes emotional and physical devastation that may last a lifetime. Victims are often hesitant to come forward out of fear that they will be forced to testify and relive the deplorable events of abuse. Many survivors cope by trying to block the abuse from memory and would, justifiably, prefer to avoid enduring examination and questioning on the witness stand. Others worry that testifying may cause them financial hardship and other difficulties.  

For victims of particular types of civil allegations, such as child sexual abuse, rape, and incest, testifying can be a severely painful experience. Unfortunately, the pain of testifying may be necessary to prove liability and/or damages. To that end, they may be forced to testify whether they want to or not.  

Are There Exceptions? 

When any witness declines to testify in court, they may found in contempt of court and could even be imprisoned. However, the law states  that victims of child sexual abuse, sexual assault, and domestic abuse cannot be imprisoned for refusing to testify. They can however, be fined. When a child below the age of 16 declines to take the stand in their own civil case, the court will  look for an alternative path forward.  

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Speak with a caring and competent attorney

Regardless of whether you are a potential witness or a victim, child abuse places tremendous strain on an individual’s life. Discuss your rights and obligations with a compassionate and skilled personal injury lawyer at Crowe Arnold & Majors, LLP. Consultations are always free and confidential, so do not delay.