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Abuse Reporting in Texas Back to Course Index


Abuse Reporting in Texas





Abuse is the physical, psychological, or sexual maltreatment of another person.  Several populations are vulnerable to exploitation. 


Domestic violence includes behaviors used by one person in a relationship to control the other.  These two people can be, or may not be, married.  Domestic violence can include husband against wife, wife against husband, brother against brother, or even roommate against a roommate.  It encompasses anyone in a close type of relationship.


Other types of abuse can be identified as elder abuse and child abuse.  The populations are especially vulnerable and frequently cannot speak for themselves.


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines child maltreatment as any act or series of acts or commission or omission by a parent or other caregiver that results in harm, the potential for harm, or the threat of harm to a child.   


Elder abuse refers to any knowing, intentional, or negligent act by a caregiver or any other person that causes harm or serious risk of harm to a vulnerable adult. 


Currently, there are four widely recognized and identifiable categories of abuse, including:

  • Neglect
  • Physical Abuse
  •  Psychological/Emotional Abuse
  •  Sexual Abuse

Other types of abuse can fit under these categories, such as financial abuse and exploitation.




Neglect is defined as a type of maltreatment that refers to the failure by the caregiver to provide needed, age-appropriate care, although financially able to do so or offered financial or other means to do so.


Types of neglect can include:

  • Physical Neglect
  • Educational Neglect
  • Emotional/Psychological Neglect
  • Medical Neglect


Example of child neglect


Samantha is arrested for drug possession and neglects to tell the arresting officer that her 4-year-old daughter is home alone because she had only intended to be gone for an hour to obtain drugs.  Samantha is held overnight in jail until she plans to post bail.  The neighbors hear Samantha’s daughter crying for her mommy at 2:00 a.m.  They call the police, who find the 4-year-old alone in the apartment.  “My parents both used drugs, and when I was growing up, there was no one there to do the basic things that a child needs, like cooking meals.  Mum wouldn’t even notice whether I had or hadn’t gone to school as she was always upstairs smashed out of her face.  I wanted to go to school as I didn’t want a life like my parents.  I could pretend that everything was fine at home while I was there.  No one there knew what was happening at home until the house was raided.”


Example of elder neglect


An 86-year-old man arrived at the emergency room from his son’s home with multiple bed sores all over his back and heels and severe dehydration.  He had restraint marks on his wrist.  His son said they felt they had to restrain him, or he would wander off at night.



Psychological and Emotional Abuse

 Psychological abuse is also referred to as emotional abuse and is a form of abuse characterized by a person subjecting or exposing another to psychologically harmful behavior.  It involves the willful infliction of mental or emotional anguish by threat, humiliation, or other verbal and non-verbal conduct.  It is often associated with situations of power imbalance, such as abusive relationships.


Psychological abuse may occur as bullying of individuals by groups, often children, or by one partner in a relationship.  In domestic abuse, psychological abuse nearly always precedes physical violence when this occurs and also accompanies it.  Modern technology has led to new forms of abuse through text messaging and online cyberbullying, particularly in children and young adults.  Methods of abuse include causing fear by intimidation, threatening physical harm to self, partner, children, or partner’s family or friends, destruction of pets and property, and forcing isolation from family, friends, school, or work.  More subtle tactics include putdowns, hiding objects such as keys, then putting them back without the victim seeing, and denying that previous incidents happened. 



Examples of psychological abuse can include:

  •         Putdowns
  •         Threats to leave
  •         Threats to take things away
  •         Hiding keys
  •         Locking the windows or doors to keep someone in


Example of psychological abuse:

Rachel wanted to be well-liked at her school.  She didn’t care if her boyfriend was one of the cool guys, but she just wanted someone to like her.  When Jake, one of the most popular boys in school, asked her to meet him outside of the locker room after school, she was very excited!  They met, and he moved fast…too fast.  She wanted to say “no,” but she wanted him to like her so much that she just went along with his advances.  She hoped he would ask her on a date.  When she got home and finished her homework, she went online and found that the other boys, Jake’s friends, had taken pictures of her that afternoon.  The pictures were embarrassing.  The messages under the pictures from the other kids at school were horrible.  When Rachel got to school the next day, she found her locker was covered in pictures.  When she got to her first class, there was a picture on her seat.  The week continued with pictures and ugly remarks all over the place.  


Physical Abuse

 Physical abuse involves contact intended to cause feelings of intimidation, pain, injury, or other physical suffering or harm. 


There are several indicators of physical abuse:

  •         Frequent physical injuries are attributed to being clumsy or accident-prone.
  •         Injuries that do not seem to fit the explanation
  •         Conflicting explanations
  •         Patches of hair missing
  •         Frequent absences
  •         Awkward movements that suggest the person is in pain or sore
  •         Flinching behavior


Example of physical abuse:

From around age 10, nothing Amy did was good enough for her mom.  They led a very chaotic lifestyle, and for one year, they lived in 12 different places.  The houses were all in bad condition, and they were always dirty.

People would say, “You smell,” and Amy was bullied at school because she was different.  The bullies said that if they saw her out of school, they’d kill her.  She was always scared.

Mom had two or three partners with whom she’d had turbulent relationships.   Amy was frightened of Mom when she was drunk as she was very unpredictable.  Mom frequently yelled at and hit Amy.  Once, she had shoved her so hard that she fell down the front steps.    

Most of the mom’s boyfriends ignored Amy altogether, but some were mean.  They would hit her, too.  One didn’t want Amy “hanging around” her own house, so he told Amy’s mom that he didn’t want her to be there when he was.  When the boyfriend was over, Amy’s mom moved a sleeping bag into the garage for Amy to stay there.  



Sexual Abuse

Sexual abuse is forcing undesired sexual behavior by one person upon another.  This also can involve using someone for sexual stimulation.  Sexual abuse can include both touching and non-touching behaviors. 


Abusers often do not use physical force but may use play, deception, threats, or other forms of coercion to engage their victims and maintain their silence.


Signs of sexual abuse in children:

  • An increase in nightmares and/or other sleeping issues
  • Withdrawn behavior
  • Angry outbursts
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Not wanting to be left alone with a particular person
  • Sexual knowledge, language, and/or actions that are inappropriate for the child’s age

Signs of sexual abuse in the elderly:

  • Bruising on inner thighs
  • Sexually transmitted diseases or infections
  • Any sudden change in personality
  • Acting overly compliant
  • Odd comments about sex or sexual behaviors
  • Agitation or aggression
  • Scared or timid behavior
  • Withdrawal and wanting to be alone

Although many people who have experienced sexual abuse show behavioral and emotional changes, others do not.  It is critical to focus not only on detection but on prevention and open communication.


Approximately 15% to 25% of women and 5% to 15% of men were sexually abused as children.  Most sexual abuse offenders are acquainted with their victims.  Approximately 30% are relatives, and nearly 60% are other acquaintances such as family friends, caretakers, or neighbors.


Example of sexual abuse:

Lee was 16 when a friend introduced him to her church youth group.  The first time he went, he met the youth leader, Adam.  As Lee got more involved in the group, transport became an issue, and Adam offered to give him lifts.

Quite early on, Adam and Lee began texting.  When Adam suggested we hang out outside the group, Lee didn’t think anything of it.  He thought it was common for youth workers to want to spend time with young people.

Lee didn’t have many friends, so it felt like he’d made a close friend in Adam.  He was paying attention to Lee and enjoyed his company; it felt like he was looking out for Lee.

Then, Adam started encouraging Lee to hang out with him at his house.  He started telling Lee that we had a special friendship.

It was gradual and quite innocent to start with, but Lee began to feel increasingly uncomfortable.  Adam started sitting closer to him on the sofa, trailing his finger along his things.  Lee thought this was strange but not big enough to react to it then.

Over time, Adam started to give him extended hugs and kiss Lee’s face.  He’d tell Lee I was his best mate and what they had was special.  He said it was normal to do these things, even biblical, reading Lee passages from the Bible.

As things continued, Lee told him he wasn’t comfortable with what he was doing.  He didn’t listen and instead ramped things up by kissing Lee on the lips.  The kissing on the lips then became more regular, and Lee felt helpless to tell anybody about what was happening.

When Lee told Adam he wasn’t gay – that he liked girls and wanted him to stop – he’d turn things around by telling him he must want this because he’d instigated it.  He’d threaten to take Lee off the preaching rotation or stop giving him lifts.  He made Lee feel as if he’d be ostracized from the group if he put a stop to things and told Lee constantly that he wasn’t to tell anyone. 

Things escalated when Adam made them masturbate in the same room as each other.  When they weren’t together, he’d text Lee telling him he thought about him while he was masturbating.  He continued to pressure Lee, saying they would spend their lives together and that he wanted us to have sex.


Effects of Abuse

There is a profound long-term impact when people live surrounded by fear, negative moods, family stress, and parental violence.  Research shows that children with domestic violence often develop psychological, emotional, and behavioral problems.

The Centers for Disease Control found that children who witness abuse are at higher risk of:

    • alcohol and substance abuse;
    • health conditions like cancer, depression, and diabetes;
    • poor performance in school, and
    • an early death.

Children who grow up around domestic violence also believe it is normal and often repeat the cycle of violence in their own adult lives.


Children’s Responses 

Children may experience a range of feelings about living with abuse, even if they don’t say it aloud.  Depending on their age, they may:

  • Feel responsible for the abuse, thinking, “If I had been a good girl/boy, the violence wouldn’t have happened.”
  • Carry guilt for not stopping the abuse.
  • Experience constant anxiety.
  • Grieve when they are separated from the abuser.  They may also grieve for the positive image they had of the abuser before they knew about or experienced the abuse.
  • Feel ambivalent.  They may have positive and negative feelings about the abuser and/or the victim.
  • Be afraid of abandonment.  After leaving behind the abusive parent/guardian, they may be scared the victimized parent will leave them or die.
  • Seek constant attention from adults.
  • Fear of being physically harmed.  A significant percentage of children who witness domestic violence are also physically abused.
  • Be embarrassed.  Older children may especially be ashamed of how other people view the family.
  • Worry deeply about the future.  Because violence is unpredictable, children learn to live in a state of constant uncertainty.


Signs of Abuse in Children

Signs of Physical Abuse

    • Unexplained changes in the child’s body or behavior or regression to earlier developmental stages
    • Any injury (bruise, burn, fracture, abdominal or head injury) that cannot be explained
    • Watchful and “on alert” behavior, as if the child is waiting for something bad to happen
    • Shying away from touch, flinches at sudden movements or seems afraid to go home
    • Appears to be afraid of adults
    • Wears clothing inappropriate to the season or weather to cover injuries, i.e., long-sleeved shirts on hot days
    • School failure
    • Frequent headaches or stomachaches with no medical cause

Signs of Emotional Abuse

    • Behavioral changes
    • Speech disorders
    • Substance abuse
    • Developmental delays
    • Lack of attachment to the parent
    • Excessively withdrawn, fearful, or anxious about doing something wrong
    • Acts either inappropriately adult (taking care of other children) or inappropriately infantile (rocking, thumb-sucking, tantrums)
    • Extremely passive or aggressive behavior

Signs of Sexual Abuse

    • Extreme sexual behavior that seems inappropriate for the child’s age
    • Sexual acting out on other children
    • Genital pain, itching, swelling, or bleeding, as well as a sexually transmitted disease
    • Refusal to change for physical activities (e.g., P.E. class) or refusal to participate in physical activities
    • Depression
    • Runaway
    • Fear of being alone with adults, especially of a particular gender
    • Suicide attempts
    • Trouble walking or sitting
    • Nightmares or bedwetting
    • Sudden changes in appetite
    • Fear of a particular person or family member  

Signs of Neglect

    • Frequently absent from school
    • Theft of food or money
    • Consistently poor hygiene
    • Lack of appropriate clothing for weather or season
    • Frequently unsupervised, left alone, or allowed to play in unsafe situations and environments
    • Lacks needed medical or dental care

Signs of Abuse In The Elderly

    • Dehydration, malnutrition (without illness-related cause), untreated bedsores, poor personal hygiene, unattended or untreated health problems, hazardous living conditions/arrangements (for example, improper wiring, no heat, or no running water)
    • Unsanitary and unclean living conditions (for example, dirt, fleas, lice on person, soiled bedding, fecal/urine smell, inadequate clothing)
    • A nursing home resident reports of being mistreated
    • An injury that has not been cared for properly
    • An injury that is inconsistent with an explanation 
    • Cuts, puncture wounds, burns, bruises, welts
    • Poor coloration, sunken eyes or cheeks
    • Inappropriate administration of medication
    • Frequent use of hospital or health care/doctor-shopping
    • Lack of necessities such as food, water, or utilities
    • Lack of personal effects, pleasant living environment, personal items
    • Forced isolation

Behavioral Signs:

    • Fear; Anxiety; Agitation; Anger
    • Isolation, Withdrawal, Depression
    • Non-responsiveness; Resignation; Ambivalence
    • Contradictory statements; Implausible stories
    • Hesitation to talk openly; Confusion or disorientation

Signs by Caregiver:

    • Prevents the elder from speaking to or seeing visitors
    • Anger, indifference, and aggressive behavior toward the elder
    • History of substance abuse, mental illness, criminal behavior, or family violence
    • Lack of affection toward the elder
    • Flirtation or coyness is a possible indicator of inappropriate sexual relationships
    • Conflicting accounts of incidents
    • Withholds affection
    • Talks of the elder as a burden



Reporting Requirements For Professionals in Texas

The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) has a central place to report:

  • Child abuse and neglect.
  • Abuse, neglect, self-neglect, and exploitation of the elderly or adults with disabilities living at home.
  • Abuse of children in child-care facilities or treatment centers.
  • Abuse of adults and children who live in state facilities or are being helped by programs for people with mental illness or intellectual disabilities. These reports are investigated by HHSC, not DFPS.


Child Abuse

Texas law requires that anyone with knowledge or suspected child abuse/neglect report it to authorities. The law extends to individuals whose personal communications may be otherwise privileged, such as attorneys, clergy members, and healthcare professionals.

Section 261.101 of the Texas Family Code mandates that anyone who suspects child abuse or neglect must report it immediately.  Professionals must make a report within 48 hours after first suspecting a child has been abused or neglected or is a victim of an offense under Section 21.11, Penal Code. A professional may not delegate to or rely on another person to make the report (Texas Family Code, Section 261.101). Professionals are not required to follow up their oral reports with a written report as they were in the past. Professionals include teachers, nurses, doctors, day-care employees, and others who are either licensed by the state or work in a facility licensed or operated by the state and have direct contact with children during their job (Texas Family Code, Section 261.101).

The more time that passes, the more challenging it is for CPS to conduct a thorough investigation. Evidence can be obscured.  It is important to know that in some cases, a professional may be aware of ongoing problems before suspecting that the situation is abuse or neglect. DFPS encourages a person to report, even if he/she merely thinks that a child has been abused or neglected.  The reporter is not expected to prove that abuse or neglect has definitely occurred. Delaying a report to check the situation or to gather more information can result in more serious harm to the child.

 The report may be made to:

  • Any local or state law enforcement agency or
  • The Department of Family and Protective Services 

By Phone
DFPS Abuse Hotline is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.   

A report can also be made on a secure website:

You will get a response within 24 hours.
Do not use the website to make a report if someone faces an immediate risk or an emergency situation.  Call the abuse hotline or 911 if an emergency)

You cannot email reports of suspected abuse or neglect.

Texas law broadly defines “abuse” and “neglect” so that every action in which a child’s physical or mental health or welfare has been or may be adversely affected is potentially covered. The statute explicitly excludes an accident or reasonable discipline by a parent or guardian that does not expose the child to a substantial risk of harm. However, if there is a question of whether the conduct constitutes abuse or neglect, you should report the incident.

Failure to report suspected child abuse or neglect is a Class A Misdemeanor, punishable by imprisonment of up to one year and/or a fine of up to $4,000. Merely reporting the incident to a supervisor or manager is insufficient.  (Texas Family Code, Chapter 261). 

Reporters must provide a first and last name and home or business phone number to meet the reporting requirements for DFPS. Although offering a name is strongly suggested, reporting is required, and offering your name secures your report and enables follow-up and investigation; anonymous reports of child abuse and neglect may be made to local and state law enforcement agencies instead. Reporters’ names are confidential by lawA person acting in good faith who reports or assists in the investigation of a report of child abuse or neglect is immune from civil or criminal liability. 

State laws surrounding the issue of child abuse are constantly changing, so one should stay updated on state law. 

Information helpful to have on hand when filing an abuse report (if known) includes:

  • Name, age, and address of the child or person 65 years or older or an adult with disabilities.
  • Your name and contact information.
  • Brief description of the situation and the child or vulnerable adult.
  • Current injuries, medical problems, or behavioral problems.
  • For a child: Parents’ names and siblings’ names in the home.
  • For an adult: Names of relatives in or outside the home and name of the perpetrator.
  • Explain how you know about the situation.


Vulnerable Adult Abuse (Elderly and those with intellectual and developmental disabilities)

Anyone who has a reasonable cause to believe a child, or person 65 years or older, or an adult with disabilities is being abused, neglected, or exploited must report it to DFPS according to Texas laws.

A person who reports abuse in good faith is immune from civil or criminal liability. DFPS keeps the name of the person making the report confidential. Anyone who does not report suspected abuse can be held liable for a misdemeanor or felony.

Time frames for investigating reports are based on the severity of the allegations. 

Elder abuse should be reported to the same contacts as child abuse: 

DFPS Abuse Hotline

A report can also be made on a secure website:

  • Information to have on hand when making a report:
  • Name, age, and address of the elderly person
  • Name and address of the person responsible for the care
  • Nature and extent of the condition of the elderly person
  • Basis of the reporter’s knowledge
  • Any other relevant information. 

If an individual does not report elder abuse, they are subject to criminal penalties just as they are with child abuse.  The penalty for not reporting is a Class A misdemeanor, which is punishable by a fine not to exceed $4,000, confinement in jail for a term not to exceed 1 year, or both a fine and confinement. (Texas Penal Code §12.21; Texas Human Resources Code §48.052).  Additionally, if an individual knowingly or intentionally reports information that they know is false, they are subject to a Class A misdemeanor (Texas Human Resources Code §48.053). Additionally, an individual who reports under the mandatory reporting statute is provided with immunity from civil and criminal liability for persons who report elder abuse unless the report is made in bad faith (Texas Human Resources Code §48.054).


Home Health and Hospice Provider Abuse

Effective September 1, 2023, reports of abuse, neglect, and exploitation of consumers by a Home and Community Support Service Agency (HCSSA) provider (i.e., home health or hospice provider) should be made to HHSC Complaint and Incident Intake (CII). DFPS will not investigate these concerns.

You may make a report to HHSC Complaint and Incident Intake (CII):


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