Abuse Investigations: What Do I Need to Know?

Abuse Investigations: What Do I Need to Know?

Investigations of abuse and neglect against children with disabilities can involve a bewildering number of people and agencies. Below is a primer about the process of child abuse investigations and the agencies involved, beginning with reporting abuse.

Reporting Abuse

All adults in Texas are legally required to report any known or suspected child abuse, neglect or exploitation.

In emergency, or if the child is in danger, always call 911 or your local law enforcement agency.

The statewide intake line for reporting abuse of children and youth is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week: 1-800-252-5400

When you report the abuse, explain any fears you have about the child's safety.

Non-emergency abuse may also be reported online. It may take up to 24 hours for staff to process the website report, so in an emergency or for a faster response, use the intake line.

People who are Deaf, hard-of-hearing, or have a speech-disability can report by using a TTY or accessing Relay Texas by dialing 711 or 1-800-735-2989, or using www.TxAbuseHotline.org

Keep the call ID number you are provided in case you need to follow up.

The reporter’s name is kept confidential unless otherwise ordered by a court. Child Protective Services (CPS) also tries to take identifying information out of your report. If the report is made in “good faith,” the reporter cannot face civil or criminal liability.

If two people see or suspect the abuse, both people have to report it, but they can submit a joint report. You cannot ask someone else to report the abuse.

In Texas, anyone who does not report suspected abuse can be held liable for a misdemeanor or felony.

Crime Victims' Compensation Fund

The Crime Victims' Compensation Program reimburses out-of-pocket expenses to victims of violent crime and their families who have no other means of paying these costs. Crime victims can apply to be reimbursed for medical costs; therapy; replacement costs for clothes, bedding, and property seized as evidence; and one time relocation costs for victims of family violence or for sexual assault victims attacked in their own residence; among other out-of-pocket expenses. A crime victim liaison in most police and sheriff’s departments can explain the program, provide you with an application, and help you fill it out. These applications may also be available from some hospitals, as well as family violence centers.

Working with Investigators & Prosecutors

Who Investigates?

In Texas, Child Protective Services (CPS) investigates abuse of children with and without disabilities if the alleged abuser is:

  • a parent, guardian, or foster parent
  • a member of the child’s family, such as a grandparent or uncle
  • a member of the child's household, such as an unrelated roommate of the parent
  • a parent's boyfriend or girlfriend, regardless of whether that person lives in the home
  • personnel or a volunteer at the child’s school
  • personnel or a volunteer at a day care or residential facility

Local law enforcement agencies investigate abuse of children in all other circumstances, as well as in any circumstances when criminal investigations are warranted.

What Happens After the Report?

At CPS, cases are given a priority, based on the child’s current level of safety and the immediate danger factors. The three priorities are:

    • P1 — Emergency call: The child has potential for serious injury and/or a perpetrator/abuser has direct access to the child. The investigator has 24 hours to respond, but will try to make it sooner. Local law enforcement agents accompany CPS caseworkers on Priority 1 reports of abuse or neglect that involve children who appear to face immediate risk of physical or sexual abuse.
    • P2 — Non-emergency call: The child is safe now, but there are risk factors. The investigator has 72 hours to respond.
    • PN — The situation does not meet the Texas Family Code and CPS agency criteria for investigation. Examples include: the incident was an accident or a fluke, and is not ongoing; what the caregiver did was reasonable; and the issue had already been investigated and addressed, and there have been no new incidents.

 What Happens Next?

A CPS supervisor determines if the case meets the criteria for an investigation. If so, the case is assigned to a CPS investigator. If not, calls are made for more information and a decision is made then.

If a case is not assigned, one or both of the parents is contacted and resources for services may be provided.

What Happens in the Initial Investigation?

Child Protective Services staff will first interview the child, then people who know the child and situation, then the abuser or the parent/caretakers.

  1. Interview of child(ren). CPS staff always makes contact with the child first. They interview the child and either videotape or record the interview. Although they are investigating a specific incident, workers will ask questions about any other possible type of abuse – physical or sexual abuse and neglect. If the case meets the criteria of the local Children’s Advocacy Center (CAC), the child may be interviewed  by a trained forensic interviewer at the CAC.
  2. Other interviews. CPS investigators may interview other children in the home and others with information of the situation, including teachers, school counselors, after-care workers, extended family members. CPS will also review any criminal or CPS history in the family.
  3. Interview with parents/caretakers. CPS staff will interview the parent(s) or caretakers. (Unless the case is ruled “PN,” meaning it does not meet the criteria for abuse/neglect. In that case, CPS workers will still attempt to call parents to let them know about the investigation.)

Talk to supervisor. Based on what they’ve learned, CPS staff will talk to their supervisor and decide if: a) the child or children are safe; and b) parents or caregivers are protective of the child. If children are not safe or parents/caregivers are not protective of the child, CPS will look for another option for the child.

Ruling. The investigation is normally completed in 30 days, and the CPS worker will be able to determine if the child:

  • was abused or neglected
  • is at risk for future abuse or neglect
  • is safe

If the child is not ruled to be safe, the caseworker will decide if the family needs support services to reduce the risks to the child or if CPS needs to file a petition to remove the child from the family’s care.

Coordinate with law enforcement. All substantiated reports of abuse or neglect are referred to the local law enforcement agency for possible criminal prosecution.

What if I Want to Know the Status of the Case?

You can follow up with CPS. CPS staff will not be able to provide information about their investigation, but they can tell you if the case is still open. You don’t have to identify yourself. Have the case number available when you call the intake line to find out about the case status: 1-800-252-5400.

The Agencies You Might Work With

The 70 local Children’s Advocacy Centers (CACs) in Texas help support and coordinate the efforts of the multidisciplinary teams (MDTs) that investigate suspected child abuse cases, such as law enforcement, Child Protective Services (CPS), and prosecutors. These CACs serve as the first stop for children who are the alleged victims of suspected sexual abuse, severe physical abuse or neglect, or for children who have witnessed a violent crime. CACs provide a child-friendly environment, support a coordinated response to child abuse, and offer child-focused services, including:

  • Multidisciplinary team case reviews and case coordination
  • Specialized forensic interviews conducted by trained professionals
  • Medical evaluations and treatment
  • Mental health assessments and treatment, including specialized, trauma-focused treatment
  • Comprehensive victim advocacy services

CACs serve 188 counties where 97% of Texans live and provide courtesy services to children in all remaining Texas counties, according to CAC of Texas.

The CAC model includes the CAC, Child Protective Services, medical personnel, therapists, law enforcement, prosecutors, and other child and family supports.

Court Appointed Special Advocates. If a child is in foster care in Texas, they will likely be appointed a local Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA). A CASA is a volunteer who provides a “voice in court” for abused and neglected children. In Texas, 71 local CASA programs provide nearly 9,100 volunteers who serve 28,000 foster children in 213 counties. CASA volunteers spend time getting to know children and gather information from people involved in their lives, which includes family members, foster parents, teachers, social workers, doctors, and lawyers. CASA volunteers then use the information they gathered to report to the judge and advocate for the child’s needs, according to the Texas CASA website.

Child Protective Services. In Texas, Child Protective Services (CPS) is run by the Department of Family and Protective Services. CPS responsibilities include:

  • Investigating reports of abuse and neglect of children by: a) workers or volunteers in schools; b) after-school programs; c) daycares or residential facilities; d) family members, parents, guardians or foster parents; or e)  a parent’s boyfriend or girlfriend.
  • Providing services to children and families in their own homes.
  • Placing children in foster care.
  • Providing services to help youth in foster care successfully transition to adulthood.
  • Helping children get adopted.

The CPS website provides a wealth of information about the investigative process for parents, including an online resource guide, A Parent’s Guide to Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) Investigations. 

Local police or sheriff's offices. The law requires CPS to tell Texas local law enforcement agencies about all reports of alleged abuse or neglect. The law enforcement agency will then decide whether to do a criminal investigation. This investigation is separate from the CPS investigation. You can contact the local law enforcement agency to ask about a criminal investigation and also contact local law enforcement if you feel that someone has made a false report against you.

In addition, local law enforcement, not CPS, handles investigations when children are abused by people other than: a) family members; b) girlfriends or boyfriends of a parent; or c) volunteers or workers at school, after-school care, daycare or residential facilities.

Local prosecuting attorneys. If the case goes to court, you will be working with a local prosecuting attorney and the case may be tried before a judge.

Depending on which county the child lives in, the prosecuting attorney may be an Assistant District Attorney, Assistant Attorney General, a county attorney or a regional attorney who works for CPS (M. Mungerson, personal communication, September 8, 2015).