In fiscal year 2004, more than 50,000 Texas children were known to be victims of abuse and neglect. Staggering as this number is, it is an understatement: these are the children identified as victims by the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, the state agency charged with receiving and investigating reports of child abuse and neglect. There is little doubt that many cases of abuse and neglect go unreported. Others are not reported in a manner that supports effective investigation.
TDFPS received over 200,000 reports of suspected child abuse or neglect in 2004. In many cases,the incidents or behavior reported did not meet the statutory definition of child abuse. Other reports did not contain enough information for investigators to be able to locate the child. All told, after screening, a little more than two thirds of the reports were investigated, and 50,529 victims were confirmed.
The majority of this handbook is about the definition, recognition, and reporting of child abuse. The handbook is intended for use as a training tool, to increase the likelihood that child abuse will be recognized and referred to the appropriate authorities for investigation — and to improve the timeliness and quality of bonafide reports.
Reporting must ultimately be seen in context;— it is the front end of the child protective service system. The process of bringing an abused or neglected child to the attention of appropriate authorities is vital. But at best it may prevent an abused child from suffering further harm. It is, basically, late intervention. The greater good is to prevent child abuse before it occurs. For this reason, a section has been added to this handbook on broad strategies of child abuse prevention. It is about how we — as individuals, as professionals who work with children, as communities, and as a society — can prevent and reduce child abuse.
This handbook is designed primarily for professionals such as teachers, doctors, nurses, day care workers, and police officers who regularly come into contact with children. It is imperative that people in these occupations be adequately trained in child abuse recognition and prevention. But the handbook is for parents, too, as well as other concerned adults who have the opportunity to observe and interact with children. The handbook is not specifically for the professionals who will actually investigate allegations of child abuse or assault.
A word on the use of terms: a child, in the relevant area of law and throughout this handbook, is anyone under the age of 18, except where otherwise noted. In fact, the overwhelming majority of children confirmed as victims of abuse or neglect are under the age of 13. Abuse and neglect occur in preteens of all ages, but very young children are at substantially greater risk than older children of being killed as a result of abuse or neglect. In Texas in 2004, 56 percent of confirmed child abuse cases involved children six or younger.
Abusers are referred to variously as parents, caregivers, adults with access to the child, or, simply, anyone who harms a child. In Texas in 2004, parents were the alleged perpetrators in 77 percent of confirmed cases of child abuse or neglect. Although it is important to remember that children can be abused or assaulted by anyone, the discussion repeatedly returns to the child’s primary caregivers — who are most often the child’s parents — because in the majority of cases, they are the key.
The handbook is designed to be as practical as possible. A person who becomes aware of child abuse or neglect should not attempt to investigate the child’s situation. But there is much that a concerned adult can do to help. From your first response to a child’s disclosure of abuse, through your appropriate documentation and reporting of the circumstances you observe, and in your ongoing efforts to prevent child abuse, you can make a difference for the children and families whose lives you touch.