Texas bill barring anonymous reporting of child abuse heads to Gov. Greg Abbott

A caseworkers badge hangs off her neck as she prepares to assist on a case for the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services in June 2018. (Pu Ying Huang For The Texas Tribune, Pu Ying Huang For The Texas Tribune)

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In an attempt to weed out false reports of child abuse, the Texas Legislature has approved a bill that would bar Texans from making child abuse reports anonymously.

House Bill 63, authored by state Rep. Valoree Swanson, R-Spring, was approved without discussion by the Texas Senate on Tuesday, 20-11. The vote came almost a month after it passed the House and now goes to Gov. Greg Abbott for his consideration.

If it becomes law, the bill is the latest measure to not only reduce the workload volume of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, it marks a sea change in the way Texas alerts officials to potential child abuse.

Currently, anyone can call DFPS’ child abuse hotline — 800-252-5400 — or file a report online to notify investigators of potential neglect or abuse of a child and do so anonymously. A child abuse investigator will then follow up on that tip and conduct a preliminary investigation. If the investigator finds no collaborating evidence, the report is considered unfounded and no other action is taken.

But this bill would require the child abuse agency to obtain a caller’s identity from the start. No report would be taken unless the caller or the online reporter provided their own name, phone number and address. The identity of the caller will remain confidential to all except those who work at DFPS.

In 2022, there were 12,473 anonymous calls to the state and about 1,000 of those calls resulted in a substantiated finding of abuse or neglect, said Kate Murphy, director of child protection policy with the advocacy group Texans Care for Children.

“Unfortunately, if this bill were to pass, those 1,000 children would be left to continue experiencing abuse and neglect or worse,” she said on Thursday, hours before the bill passed. “Leaving children in danger can have disastrous consequences. Last year, 182 Texas kids died of abuse and neglect.”

But state Sen. Kevin Sparks, R-Midland, told legislators on Wednesday that people were weaponizing the state agency against individuals they had a disagreement with, by making false reports.

“Unfortunately, the DFPS and Child Protective Services can often be used as a weapon. A lot of times we see this in divorce cases. We probably all know of a circumstance where a family was needlessly traumatized because of an anonymous tip that was ultimately found to be false,” said Sparks, one of the bill’s sponsors.

During the second reading of the bill on Wednesday, Sen. José Menéndez, D-San Antonio, suggested a failed amendment to change the language to say the state “discourages” false reports, but still allows for follow-ups even if personal information is not provided.

“I know, in other cases, when you don’t have the ability to report anonymously, there’s a chilling effect on those reports,” he said.

Disclosure: Texans Care for Children has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

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