• Just How Confidential Are CPS Reports?
  • March 1, 2018 | Author: Heather Rose 'Heather Rutland' Rutland
  • Law Firm: Eichelbaum Wardell Hansen Powell & Mehl, P.C. - Austin Office
  • Reporting suspected abuse or neglect to Child Protective Services has always been an affirmative duty in Texas, and even more so for educators who bear additional responsibility to convey their concerns timely on behalf of students. One way that this duty is made less intimidating is the assurance that the identity of the reporter will be kept confidential. In this age of government transparency through Public Information Act requests and parent inspection of student records under FERPA, just how confidential can these reports stay? This is a common concern voiced by educators, and with good reason: doing the right thing under the reporting statute seldom wins friends. It is critical, therefore, that when district staff make CPS reports, they understand the extent to which their report is confidential. Under the Family Code, if asked to release the closed CPS file, CPS must redact “the information to protect the confidentiality of the person who made the report and any other person whose life or safety may be endangered by the disclosure.” Tex. Fam. Code. § 261.201; see also Tex. Admin Code § 700.203. Specifically, CPS shall remove the name, address, and any other information that tends to reveal the identity of the reporter.

    While encouraging, this does not provide protections for anyone who makes a witness statement. Should a parent request the final, closed file from CPS – even if that parent was the alleged perpetrator – it will be released to them with only the reporter information redacted. If, however, the reporter also happened to submit a witness statement or provide any other evidence during the course of the investigation, then the person’s identity will be released in the context of their having served as a witness. Only information that reveals that same person was the reporter will be redacted. As often happens, once a report is made to CPS, the agency will contact the reporter seeking follow-up information for the investigation – at which point the reporter is now a witness. Also likely to end up as named witnesses are any individuals identified as possibly having additional information, provided they are contacted by CPS. Depending on the contents of the investigation file, not only witness names but addresses, cell phone numbers, and other personal information may be revealed should a parent request the CPS file, as there is no obligation to redact anything besides the reporter’s identity in his/her capacity as the reporter.

    District employees are required to report suspected abuse or neglect, pursuant to district policy and state law. District employees are also required to cooperate with CPS investigations, pursuant to district policy. The fact that an angry parent may end up learning the employee’s identity (or possibly more) does not absolve the employee from fulfilling the statutory duties in order to keep children safe. The expectation that a person’s identity will remain confidential as a reporter is unfortunately undermined by the several ways that identity will not remain confidential. The implications of failure to report are severe, for the child involved and for the employee, but participants in a CPS investigation should understand the limitations of the confidentiality provisions at the outset.