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The difference between child abuse and discipline in Texas

After a video showed a mother screaming at and beating her son with a belt, parents began asking at what point the woman crossed the line.

HOUSTON — Many parents are questioning the difference between child abuse and parental discipline after a video surfaced showing a woman screaming at and beating a young boy with a belt.

"Beaumont ISD administration has been made aware of the incident at Homer Drive Elementary," district spokesperson Debbie Bridges said in a statement. "Administrators contacted the appropriate enforcement agencies and the matter is now under investigation."

Texas Department of Family Protective Services and Child Protective Services confirmed they are investigating.

RELATED: Investigation underway after video shows parent hitting child with belt at school

But what is the difference between parents using corporal punishment and child abuse?

"It may not necessarily be something they would do as a parent, but it doesn’t meet the criteria of abuse," said Tiffani Butler, a spokesperson for DFPS. ”It’s definitely difficult to see any child who’s hurt physically or mentally.”

Butler said it's critical that parents do not use corporal punishment in the heat of the moment, or the immediate aftermath.

”It can lead to where you’re not controlling your emotions, your actions, and that can lead to that child getting hurt," Butler said. "Take some time to cool off."

RELATED: 'The voice of the kids' | A day in the life of a CPS investigator

Under Texas law, child abuse has broad definition, including mental, sexual, physical or substance abuse.

The law defines physical injury as:

"injury that results in substantial harm to the child, or the genuine threat of substantial harm from physical injury to the child, including an injury that is at variance with the history or explanation given and excluding an accident or reasonable discipline by a parent, guardian, or managing or possessory conservator that does not expose the child to a substantial risk of harm;"

Texas law requires any person suspecting that a child has been abused or neglected must immediately make a report. If there is an emergency, call 911 and then call the DFPS Texas Abuse Hotline at 1-800-252-5400. You can also make a report online.

Professionals must make a report no later than the 48th hour after first suspecting a child has been abused or neglected or is a victim of an offense. Failing to do so could result in a misdemeanor charge.

Professionals include teachers, nurses, doctors, daycare employees and others who are either licensed by the state or work in a facility licensed or operated by the state and who have direct contact with children in the course of their job.

A professional may not delegate to or rely on another person to make the report.

It is important to make the report as soon as possible, according to DFPS. The more time that passes between the incident and your report, the more difficult it is for CPS to conduct an appropriate and thorough investigation and to gather the information needed to protect the child. Over time, bruises can heal, physical evidence may disappear or be obscured, memories may fade, and children, parents and other individuals may change their minds about what to say to CPS.

In some situations, you may be aware of a family’s ongoing problems over a period of time before you begin to suspect the situation has worsened into abuse or neglect. DFPS encourages you to report if you think  child has been abused or neglected. You are not expected to prove that abuse or neglect has definitely occurred. Delaying your report to check the situation or to gather more information can result in more serious harm to the child.

DFPS says school districts set their own rules on whether teachers can physically intervene.

As for bystanders stepping between a parent and child, it can come down to a judgment call.

”If you’re doing it as far as to keep a child safe or protect that child, that would be the best thing to do, and then you need to report it," Butler said.


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