Making and Screening Reports of Child Abuse and Neglect - Tennessee

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Individual Responsibility to Report

Citation: Ann. Code § 37-1-403

Any person who has knowledge of or is called upon to render aid to any child who is suffering from or has sustained any wound, injury, disability, or physical or mental condition shall report such harm immediately if the harm is of such a nature as to reasonably indicate that it has been caused by brutality, abuse, or neglect, or that, on the basis of available information, reasonably appears to have been caused by brutality, abuse, or neglect.

Any person who knows or has reasonable cause to suspect that a child has been sexually abused shall report such knowledge or suspicion to the Department of Children's Services.

Content of Reports

Citation: Ann. Code § 37-1-403

To the extent known by the reporter, the report shall include the following:

  • The name, address, telephone number, and age of the child
  • The name, address, and telephone number of the person responsible for the care of the child
  • The facts requiring the report
  • Any other pertinent information

Reporting Suspicious Deaths

Citation: Ann. Code §§ 37-1-403; 37-1-605

A mandated reporter who has reasonable cause to suspect that a child has died as a result of child abuse or neglect or sexual abuse shall report such suspicion to the medical examiner. The medical examiner shall accept the report for investigation and shall report the medical examiner's findings, in writing, to the local law enforcement agency, the appropriate district attorney general, and the department.

Reporting Substance-Exposed Infants

Citation: DCS Admin. Pol. & Proc., § 14.21

The child abuse hotline screens and assigns allegations involving drug-exposed children (DEC) and responds timely based on the severity of or potential for physical, mental, or emotional harm to the child. A referral meets the criteria for the investigation track when one or more of the following applies:

  • The alleged child victim is younger than age 2.
  • The child has a positive drug screen for an illegal or unprescribed drug.
  • The alleged perpetrator directly administers, provides, or uses legal or illegal drugs, resulting in harm to the child.
  • The parent/caregiver's misuse of prescription medication has caused physical, mental, or emotional harm.
  • The referral involves the manufacturing of methamphetamine.

If the referral meets the screening definition for DEC but does not meet the criteria above, the case is assigned to the assessment track.

Referrals received for infants (age birth to 12 months born with and identified as being affected by substance abuse, withdrawal symptoms resulting from prenatal exposure to the use of illegal drugs or the misuse of legal drugs or chemical substances, diagnosed with neonatal abstinence syndrome and/or fetal alcohol spectrum disorder will be identified as a CARA case when this information is reported or confirmed by or on behalf of a medical provider. These infants must have a plan of safe care that includes services that ensure the safety and well-being of infants. (A CARA plan of care refers to the plan of care that a State is required to develop by the Federal Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA) of 2016.)

Agency Receiving the Reports

Citation: Ann. Code § 37-1-403; Pol. Man. § 14.1

Any person with knowledge of the type of harm described above shall report it, by telephone or otherwise, to the following:

  • The judge having juvenile jurisdiction over the child
  • The department, either by contacting a local representative of the department or by utilizing the department's centralized intake procedure
  • The sheriff of the county where the child resides
  • The chief law enforcement official of the municipality where the child resides

Every physician who makes a diagnosis of any sexually transmitted disease in a child who is age 13 or younger shall report the case immediately, in writing, to the Department of Health. If sexual abuse is suspected, the Department of Health will report the case to the Department of Children's Services.

Each report of known or suspected child sexual abuse shall be made immediately to the local office of the department responsible for the investigation of reports, the judge having juvenile jurisdiction, or to the office of the sheriff or the chief law enforcement official of the municipality where the child resides.

In policy: The department maintains and operates a child abuse hotline, available 24 hours per day, 7 days a week, to receive reports of alleged child abuse or neglect.

Initial Screening Decisions

Citation: DCS Admin. Pol. & Proc., § 14.3

The child abuse hotline receives reports of suspected abuse and neglect. These reports are screened to determine the need for a timely investigation, assessment, or resource linkage case within the appropriate jurisdiction.

Priority response for all reports begins at intake creation date/time. Priority responses are assigned to reports to determine the timeframe in which the alleged child victim must be seen, as follows:

  • Priority 1: Cases assigned this priority are initiated by a face-to-face contact with the child no later than 24 hours but immediately if the CPS supervisor deems it necessary. Priority 1 reports allege that children may be in imminent danger.
  • Priority 2: Cases assigned this priority are initiated by face-to-face contact with the child within 2 business days. Priority 2 reports allege injuries or risk of injuries that are not imminent, life threatening, or do not require immediate medical care where a 2-business day delay will not compromise the investigative effort or reduce the chances for identifying the level of risk to the child.
  • Priority 3: Cases assigned this priority are initiated by face-to-face contact with the child within 3 business days. Priority 3 reports allege situations/incidents considered to pose low risk of harm to the child where 3 business days will not compromise the investigative effort or reduce the chances for identifying the level of risk to the child.

Hotline staff shall inquire if there is any Native American lineage or ancestry that might make the child/family eligible for membership in any Native American Tribe.

Agency Conducting the Assessment/Investigation

Citation: Ann. Code §§ 37-1-406; 37-1-607

The county office of the department shall investigate an oral or written report of harm. If the report of child abuse alleges physical abuse, it shall be in the best interests of the child that the child be referred to a child advocacy center or that the investigation be conducted by a child protective services investigator who is adequately trained in investigating physical abuse reports. Under no circumstances shall the investigation be performed by a probation officer previously assigned to the child.

In cases involving child sexual abuse, the investigation shall be conducted by a child protective investigation team. Each team shall be composed of one person from the department, one representative from the office of the district attorney general, one juvenile court officer or investigator from a court of competent jurisdiction, and one properly trained law enforcement officer with countywide jurisdiction from the county where the child resides or where the alleged offense occurred. The team also may include a representative from one of the mental health disciplines. It is in the best interests of the child that, whenever possible, an initial investigation shall not be commenced unless all four disciplines are represented. An initial investigation may, however, be commenced if at least two of the team members are present at the initial investigation.

It is the intent of the general assembly that the child protective investigations be conducted by the team members in a manner that not only protects the child but that also preserves any evidence for future criminal prosecutions.

Assessment/Investigation Procedures

Citation: Ann. Code § 37-1-406

All representatives of the child protective services agency shall, at the initial time of contact with the individual who is subject to an investigation, advise the individual of the complaints or allegations made against the individual.

The investigation shall include the following:

  • The nature, extent, and cause of the harm, including a determination of whether there exists a threat of harm, and the nature and extent of any present or prior injuries or abuse
  • The identity of the person responsible for it
  • The nature and extent of any previous allegations, complaints, or petitions of abuse or dependency and neglect against the parent or person responsible for the care of the child
  • The names and conditions of the other children in the home
  • An evaluation of the parents or persons responsible for the care of the child, the home environment, and the relationship of each child to the parents or persons responsible for such child's care
  • The identity of any other persons in the same household
  • The identity of any other children in the care of any adult residing in the household
  • All other pertinent data

The investigation shall include a visit to the child's home; an interview with and observation of the child; and interviews with the parents, other custodians of the child, and any other persons in the child's home. If the investigator deems it necessary, the investigation also shall include medical, psychological, or psychiatric examinations of the child and any other children in the child's home or under the care of any person alleged to have permitted or caused abuse, neglect, or sexual abuse to the child.

The investigator shall interview the child outside the presence of the parents or other persons allegedly responsible for the harm and, wherever possible, shall interview the child in a neutral setting other than the location where the alleged abuse occurred.

Timeframes for Completing Investigations

Citation: Ann. Code §§ 37-1-406; 37-1-607

The department shall be capable of receiving and investigating reports of child abuse 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The county office shall make a thorough investigation promptly after receiving either an oral or written report of harm.

If it appears that the immediate safety or well-being of a child is endangered, that the family may flee or the child will be unavailable, or that the facts otherwise warrant, the department shall commence an investigation immediately, regardless of the time of day or night.

For each child sexual abuse report it receives, the department shall immediately notify the child protection investigation team, which shall commence an onsite child protective investigation.

No later than 60 days after receiving the initial report, the department or team in cases of child sexual abuse or the department in all other cases shall determine whether the reported abuse was indicated or unfounded and report its findings to the department's abuse registry.

Classification of Reports

Citation: Ann. Code §§ 37-1-406; DCS Admin. Pol. & Proc., § 14.7

The investigation shall determine whether the reported abuse was indicated or unfounded.

In policy: Within 30 calendar days from the intake date, allegations are classified according to one of the following options:

  • Allegation substantiated, perpetrator substantiated: used when there is a preponderance of evidence to validate an allegation occurred, and the alleged perpetrator (AP) is found to be responsible for the alleged acts.
  • Allegation substantiated, perpetrator unsubstantiated: used when there is a preponderance of evidence to validate an allegation occurred, however, there is insufficient evidence to substantiate the identified AP.
  • Allegation substantiated, perpetrator unknown: used when there is a preponderance of evidence to support that an allegation of abuse or neglect occurred, however, an AP cannot be identified.
  • Allegation unsubstantiated, perpetrator unsubstantiated: used when there is not a preponderance of evidence to support the allegation occurred and the AP identified in the report was not found to be responsible for any abuse or neglect.
  • Allegation unsubstantiated, child with sexual behavior problems: used when there is sufficient information and evidence that supports sexual contact did occur with the child, however the AP is age 12 or younger. (This may also include children under age 18 who clinically function at age 12 or younger due to an intellectual or development disability.)
  • Unable to complete: Used when the child or family cannot be located after or the incident occurred in another State, and the department participated in investigative activities or offered services but was unable to gather sufficient evidence to formally classify the allegation.