Monday, November 10, 2008

Reporting Child Abuse

A member of my church contacted me a few weeks ago about their duty to report child abuse in the context of child care situations and spiritual counseling. After some online research in the Texas Family Code, I was able to compile some guidelines for action.

First, a person commits an offense if the person has cause to believe a child's physical or mental health or welfare has been, or may be, adversely affected by abuse or neglect and knowingly fails to report it. This offense is a Class B misdemeanor offense, punishable by up to 180 days in county jail and a $2,000.00 fine. See sec. 261.109 Texas Family Code (TFC)

The next question is "who is a child" within the meaning of this reporting requirement? Section 101.003 TFC defines a child as: "a person under 18 years of age who is not and has not been married or who has not had the disabilities of minority removed for general purposes."

"Abuse" covers a comprehensive array of acts or omissions including mental or emotional injury, physical injury resulting in harm or the threat of harm to the child, failure to make reasonable efforts to prevent abuse by another person, and sexual conduct harmful to a child's mental, emotional, or physical welfare. See sec. 261.001 TFC.

Persons required to report child abuse are "professionals" and "persons who are traditionally responsible for a child's care" including parents, guardians, foster parents, school personnel, and personnel at public or private child-care facilities providing services for the child. A "professional" is an individual who is licensed or certified by the state or who is an employee of a facility licensed, certified, or operated by the state and who, in the normal course of official duties, has direct contact with children. The term includes teachers, nurses, doctors, day-care employees, employees of clinics or health care facilities providing reproductive services, juvenile probation officers, and juvenile detention or correctional officers.

If you're a professional or a person traditionally responsible for a child's care and have questions about your duty under law to report child abuse, contact a qualified Bryan|College Station criminal defense lawyer to discuss these important issues and get advice you need to avoid running afoul of legal duties to report child abuse.

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