This week, the Corsicana Daily Sun published numerous cases in which an adult is accused of having carried on a sexual relationship with a child.
It’s the kind of thing we’d rather not have to report. Our editorial board would love for this to be a world in which all adults could be trusted to treat children appropriately. But while most adults have nothing to do with child sexual abuse, it’s the few who do that we must remain vigilant against.
We commend people for acting on their suspicions in an appropriate way — by reporting their suspicions to those in authority, including law enforcement, so a proper investigation could take place. We encourage others to do the same.
By Texas law, anyone who suspects a child is being abused or neglected is required to report it to either the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services or to local law enforcement. Law enforcement agencies conduct criminal investigations to figure out who committed a crime, according to the Texas DFPS website. DFPS handles civil investigations into suspected abuse or neglect by family members or sometimes school personnel, in order to ensure the welfare of the child and their family.
On the flip side, if you fail to report suspected child abuse or neglect, you’ve committed a criminal offense, according to the Texas DFPS. That’s particularly true for professionals such as teachers, medical personnel or day-care employees who come into contact with children during the course of their job.
Time is of the essence because evidence of abuse can disappear or be muddied as days pass, the Texas DFPS indicates on its website. A bruise may heal and memories may fade before investigators can take note of them.
You’re protected from liability if you provide information about what you sincerely believe could be a case of child abuse or neglect, unless you are reporting about your own maltreatment of a child. You are not expected to know for sure if abuse is happening or not; that’s what an investigator is for. Of course, you could be held liable for a report made in bad faith, such as one intended as revenge, according to the Texas DFPS.
It’s true that some situations appear murky. Perhaps you’ve long known about a family’s ongoing problems, but you didn’t think until recently that they had worsened into abuse or neglect. If that’s the case, the Texas DFPS says it’s best to go ahead and report your suspicions rather than waiting for more information. Remember, time could be of the essence if abuse is happening, and you’re not expected to determine if abuse or neglect has definitely occurred, only to report what you know. The authorities do the investigating and they’re likely better equipped for it than you are.
So what information would you need to report? To start with, help authorities locate the child. The names of the child and anyone involved would be ideal, but a description of the child and their home or school is still a start, if you don’t know names.
You’ll need to describe what made you think abuse could be happening. Be prepared to give as much information as you know about the child’s age and condition, too, such as whether they have any medical conditions or you’ve noticed injuries. That helps authorities determine the level of danger involved.
If you witnessed what looked like an abusive event in a public setting and you don’t know the child personally, you may still have important information for the authorities. If you can describe and guess the approximate age of a child and the person you believe may be abusing them, a license plate number of an involved vehicle or even information about anyone else who may have seen what you saw, try to report that.
One last thing. If you aren’t sure whether to report, you can call the authorities and ask. Texas DFPS workers or police can discuss the situation and explain in general what constitutes abuse or neglect. They may ask questions you don’t know the answer to, and that’s totally OK. They can also tell you if what you’ve seen doesn’t appear to meet the legal definitions of abuse or neglect.
More information about reporting child abuse or neglect is available from the Texas DFPS’s website, www.dfps.state.tx.us — search for “reporting abuse.”