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Handbook of Operating Procedures

Child Abuse Reporting

Policy Number: 213

Subject:

Child abuse reporting and training

Scope:

Employees

Date Reviewed:
March 2021
Responsible Office:
Office of Legal Affairs
Responsible Executive:
Vice-President and Chief Legal Officer

I. POLICY AND GENERAL STATEMENT

All employees of The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (“university”) are required by Texas state law to report suspected child abuse and neglect to the appropriate authorities, in accordance with Texas Family Code Chapter 261.

II. DEFINITIONS

Abuse:Abuse may be physical, emotional, medical or sexual as defined below. An individual can also commit abuse by: (a) causing or permitting a child to be in a situation in which he or she sustains mental or emotional injury; (b) failing to make a reasonable effort to prevent physical or sexual conduct harmful to a child; (c) compelling or encouraging a child to engage in sexual conduct; (d) using a controlled substance in a manner or to the extent that it results in physical, mental or emotional injury to a child; (e) causing, permitting or encouraging a child to use a controlled substance. 

Physical abuse: Physical injury that results in substantial harm to a child, such as bruises, fractures or death.  It can also include a genuine threat of harm even if there is no visible injury. Physical injury or genuine threat of substantial harm can come from actions such as hitting, kicking, biting, shaking, choking, or any other violent act against a child. It does not include an accident or reasonable discipline that does not expose the child to a substantial risk of harm or leave a permanent mark.

Emotional abuse: Action that results in a marked impact on a child’s growth, development, or psychological functioning. Emotional abuse includes extreme forms of punishment such as confining a child in a dark closet or belittling to the point that it results in noticeable effects on the child’s daily functioning. 

Medical abuse: Occurs when a child receives unnecessary and harmful or potentially harmful medical care at the instigation of a caregiver. The child’s symptoms are not explained by an underlying medical diagnosis. Symptoms may be exaggerated, fabricated and/or induced. 

Sexual abuse: Sexual conduct harmful to a child’s mental, emotional or physical welfare. This includes fondling a child’s genitals, penetration, indecent exposure and exploitation through prostitution or producing pornography.

Child: 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.

Neglect: Neglect includes: (a) placing a child in a situation that requires judgment or actions beyond what the child is physically or mentally capable of doing and that results in bodily injury or a substantial risk of immediate harm to a child; (b) failing to get or follow up with medical care for a child when the lack of care results in physical compromise or in a marked impact on a child's growth, development, or functioning; (c) failing to provide a child with food, clothing, or shelter necessary to sustain the life or health of the child; (d) abandonment or refusal to accept parental responsibility; or (e) failure to protect a child from a situation of neglect or abuse.

Professional: an individual licensed or certified by the state or an employee of a facility licensed, certified, or operated by the state and who, in the normal course of official duties or duties for which a license or certification is required, has direct contact with children. This term includes teachers, nurses, doctors, day-care employees, employees of a clinic or health care facility that provides reproductive services, juvenile probation officers, and juvenile detention or correctional officers.

III. PROCEDURE

A.        Reporting Abuse and Neglect

Any university employee 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 to the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (“DFPS”) at 1-800-252-5400 or https://www.txabusehotline.org. Note that the on-line reporting option is not appropriate if a child may be in immediate danger, since authorities’ response time to these reports is typically longer than for cases reported by phone. In the event that the abuse or neglect is caused by a person other than one responsible for the care, custody or welfare of the child, the employee may make the report to local law enforcement. 

The person making a report shall identify, if known: (1) the name and address of the child; (2) the name and address of the person responsible for the care, custody, or welfare of the child; and (3) any other pertinent information concerning the alleged or suspected abuse or neglect.

Additional requirements apply to “professionals” as defined in this policy. Any employee who is a professional must make a report within 48 hours after the professional first suspects that a child has been or may be abused or neglected. Texas law stipulates that a professional is responsible for ensuring that a report is made and may not delegate to or rely on another person to fulfill this responsibility.

The requirement to report applies without exception to an individual whose personal communications may otherwise be privileged, including an attorney, a medical practitioner, a social worker, a mental health professional, and an employee of a clinic or health care facility that provides reproductive services.

A person commits an offense (in most cases, a Class A misdemeanor) if he or she has cause to believe that a child's physical or mental health or welfare has been or may be adversely affected by abuse or neglect and knowingly fails to make the required report.

If the suspected abuse or neglect occurs on university property, as part of university-sponsored activities or events, or involves a university employee, any employee making a report pursuant to this policy should also report it to The University of Texas Police - Houston, his or her immediate supervisor or designee, the medical director of the clinic and/or the department administrator, as appropriate. If an employee believes that the circumstances constitute an emergency or a life-threatening situation, he or she should call 911 or otherwise ensure that the victim receives care immediately. 

B.        Immunity and Retaliation

A person acting in good faith who reports or assists in the investigation of a report of alleged child abuse or neglect is immune from civil or criminal liability that might otherwise be incurred or imposed. 

State law and university policy also prohibit retaliation against an employee who, in good faith, reports child abuse or neglect to the person’s supervisor, administrator of the relevant facility or regulatory or law enforcement agency (See HOOP 108, Protection from Retaliation).

C.        Training for Employees

All university employees are required to complete training in prevention techniques for and the recognition of symptoms of sexual, physical, emotional, or medical abuse and neglect of children as well as the responsibility and procedure for reporting suspected occurrences of such abuse and neglect. The training will include:

(1)        techniques for reducing a child’s risk of such abuse or neglect;

(2)        factors indicating a child is at risk for such abuse of neglect;

(3)        the warning signs and symptoms associated with such abuse or neglect and recognition of those signs and symptoms; and

(4)        the requirements and procedures for reporting suspected such abuse or neglect as provided by Chapter 261 of the Texas Family Code. 

Training will be coordinated by the Office of Institutional Compliance and Human Resources.  Training will be required as part of new employee orientation and as part of mandatory compliance training. 

In addition, each employee of the university’s Child Development Center who attends the required training must sign a statement verifying his or her completion of the training program.  The statement shall be maintained in the employee’s personnel file. 

D.        Campus Programs for Minors

The university does not offer any campus programs for minors as defined in Texas Education Code Section 51.976. Such programs are not permitted at the university, unless special permission is obtained from the Senior Executive Vice-President, Chief Operating and Financial Officer. If any campus programs for minors are conducted by the university, additional training requirements will apply.

IV. CONTACTS

    • Office of Legal Affairs
    • 713-500-3268
    • https://inside.uth.edu/legal/contact-us.htm