Tennessee Code Annotated

Title 37: Juveniles

Chapter 1: Juvenile Courts and Proceedings

Part 4: Mandatory Child Abuse Reports

TCA 37-1-406: Availability for receiving reports -- Commencement of investigations -- Examination and observation of child -- Reports -- Services provided -- Investigators.

(a) The department shall be capable of receiving and investigating reports of child abuse twenty-four (24) hours a day, seven (7) days a week. The county office shall make a thorough investigation promptly after receiving either an oral or written report of harm. All representatives of the child protective services agency shall, at the initial time of contact with the individual who is subject to a child abuse and neglect investigation, advise the individual of the complaints or allegations made against the individual consistent with laws protecting the rights of the informant. 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. In the event the report involves child sexual abuse, the department shall follow the procedures outlined in subsection (b).

(b) In cases involving child sexual abuse, the investigation shall be conducted by a child protective investigation team as defined in § 37-1-602 relative to child sexual abuse pursuant to the provisions of § 37-1-606. In the event an immediate investigation has been initiated, the department shall notify the child protection team as soon as possible and the team shall proceed with the investigation in accordance with the provisions of Acts 1985, ch. 478. Other cases of child abuse may be investigated by the team in the discretion of each individual team.

(c) All private schools, as defined by § 49-6-3001, church-related schools, as defined by § 49-50-801, and state, county and local agencies shall give the team access to records in their custody pertaining to the child and shall otherwise cooperate fully with the investigation.

(d) The investigation shall include:

(1) 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;

(2) The identity of the person responsible for it;

(3) The names and conditions of the other children in the home;

(4) 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;

(5) The identity of any other persons in the same household;

(6) The identity of any other children in the care of any adult residing in the household; and

(7) All other pertinent data.

(e) The investigation shall include a visit to the child's home, an interview with and physical observation of the child, and an interview with the parent or parents or other custodian of the child and any other persons in the child's home. If the investigator deems it necessary, the investigation shall also 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. If the investigator determines, based on a visit to the child's home, observation of and interview with the subject child, and interview with other persons in the child's home, that the report of harm was wholly without substance, the investigator may determine that physical and psychological examinations of the subject child are unnecessary, in which case they will not be required. If admission to the home, school, or any place where the child may be, or permission of the parents or persons responsible for the child's care for the physical and psychological or psychiatric examinations cannot be obtained, the juvenile court, upon cause shown, shall order the parents or person responsible for the care of the child or the person in charge of any place where the child may be, to allow entrance for the interview, examination, and investigation. If the report of harm indicates that the abuse, neglect or sexual abuse occurred in a place other than the child's home, then, in the discretion of the investigator, the investigation may include a visit to the location where the incident occurred or a personal interview with the child and the parents or other custodians in another location instead of a visit to the child's home.

(f) Any person required to investigate cases of child abuse may take or cause to be taken photographs of the areas of trauma visible on a child who is the subject of a report and of any objects or conditions in the child's home or surroundings that could have caused or contributed to the harm to the child. If the nature of the child's injuries indicate a need for immediate medical examination or treatment, the investigator may take or cause the child to be taken for diagnosis to a licensed physician or an emergency department in a hospital without the consent of the child's parents, legal guardian or legal custodian. Any licensed physician who, based on information furnished by the investigator, the parents or other persons having knowledge of the situation, or the child, or on personal observation of the child, suspects that an injury was the result of child abuse, may authorize appropriate examinations to be performed on the child without the consent of the child's parent, legal guardian or legal custodian.

(g) At the initial investigation of child abuse and at any subsequent investigation as deemed appropriate by the investigator, audio or videotape recording may be taken of the traumatized victim. Such tape shall be admissible as evidence in cases of child sexual abuse if it meets the standards established in title 24 for the use of recorded statements. Regardless of whether such recording is used in evidence, it shall be made available for use as provided in § 37-1-405(b)(2).

(h) The investigator shall interview the child outside the presence of the parent(s) 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.

(i) No later than sixty (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. Each member of the team shall be provided with a copy of the report in any case investigated by the team. In any case investigated solely by the department, the department shall make a complete written investigation report, including its recommendation, to the juvenile court. The district attorney general shall also be provided a copy of any report in all cases where the investigation determines that the report was indicated. Further proceedings shall be conducted pursuant to part 1 of this chapter, as appropriate.

(j) If the department or team in cases of child sexual abuse or the department in all other cases determines that the protection of the child so requires, the department shall provide or arrange for services necessary to prevent further abuse, to safeguard and enhance the welfare of children, and to preserve family life. Such services may include provision for protective shelter, to include room and board; medical and remedial care; day care; homemaker; caretaker; transportation; counseling and therapy; training courses for the parents or legal guardian; and arranging for the provision of other appropriate services. All such services shall be provided when appropriate within the limits of available resources. These services shall first be offered for the voluntary acceptance by the parent or other person responsible for the care of the child, unless immediate removal is needed to protect the child. At any point if the department or team in cases of child sexual abuse or the department in all other cases deems that the child's need for protection so requires, it may proceed with appropriate action under part 1 of this chapter.

(k) If the investigator, as a result of the investigation, determines that there is cause to classify the report of severe abuse as indicated rather than unfounded, the team in cases of child sexual abuse or the department in all other cases may recommend that criminal charges be filed against the alleged offender. Any interested person who has information regarding the offenses may forward a statement to the district attorney general as to whether such person believes prosecution is justified and appropriate. Within fifteen (15) days of the completion of the district attorney general's investigation of a report of severe abuse, the district attorney general shall advise the department or team whether or not prosecution is justified and appropriate, in the district attorney general's opinion, in view of the circumstances of the specific case.

(l) The legislative intent of this section is to protect the legal rights of the family in an investigation and to ensure that no activity occurs that compromises the department's child abuse investigation or any ongoing concurrent criminal investigation conducted by law enforcement.

(m) (1) In jurisdictions that have implemented the multi-level response system, in addition to other investigative procedures under this section, local law enforcement officers and district attorneys general having jurisdiction shall assist the department, on request in writing, if the department determines that it is likely that the case may result in criminal prosecution or that a child protective services worker may be at risk of harm while investigating the following reports of harm:

(A) Any report of harm alleging facts that, if proved, would constitute severe child abuse as defined in § 37-1-102;

(B) Any report of harm alleging facts that, if proved, would constitute child sexual abuse as defined in § 37-1-602;

(C) Any report of harm alleging facts that, if proved, would constitute the following physical injuries to a child:

(i) Head trauma;

(ii) Broken bones;

(iii) Inflicted burns;

(iv) Organic functional impairment, as defined by the department;

(v) Broken skin;

(vi) Shaken baby syndrome;

(vii) Defensive injuries;

(viii) Injuries related to physical confinement; or

(ix) Infants exposed to illegal narcotics, including methamphetamine;

(D) Any report of harm alleging facts that, if proved, would constitute the following types of neglect:

(i) A child left without supervision in a dangerous environment;

(ii) Lack of food or nurturance resulting in a failure to thrive;

(iii) Abandonment of a child under the age of eight (8);

(iv) Lack of care that results in a life-threatening condition or hospitalization; or

(v) Inaction of the parent resulting in serious physical injury;

(E) Any report of harm alleging facts that would result in the removal of a child from the home pursuant to department policy or rule;

(F) Any report of harm alleging facts that involve a caretaker at any institution, including, but not limited to, any licensed day care center, public or private school, or hospital; or

(G) Any report of harm alleging facts that, if proved, would constitute any other class of injury identified by the department through policy or rule as necessitating investigation.

(2) If a local law enforcement agency or district attorney general assisting the department under this subsection (m) decides not to proceed with prosecution or terminates prosecution after undertaking it, the agency or district attorney general shall make a written report on a standardized check-off form developed by the department and the Tennessee district attorneys general conference to the department and the juvenile court on the basis for its decision. The department shall compile such reports and present them to the judiciary committee of the senate and the civil justice committee of the house of representatives as part of its report pursuant to the multi-level response system for children and families, compiled in chapter 5, part 6 of this title. The department shall make quarterly reports to local law enforcement agencies and district attorneys general as to the number and types of cases the department is handling in their jurisdictions on the basis of reports of harm or sexual abuse or of children at risk of being so harmed or sexually abused.

(n) If the report of child abuse alleges physical abuse, it shall be in the best interest 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.

(o) (1) Any investigator or law enforcement officer who is investigating a possible domestic abuse or child abuse incident that may have involved or occurred in the presence of a hearing-impaired child shall not use the child's parent or family member as an interpreter. The investigator or officer shall instead communicate with the hearing-impaired child using an interpreter trained as a sign language interpreter.

(2) The interpreter may interpret from a remote location by communicating with the child using video remote interpreting. If the child is unable to understand, then a live, qualified interpreter from the list identified in subdivision (o)(3) shall be used. The communication shall occur outside the presence of the child's parent, other family members, or potential abusers.

(3) Law enforcement agencies shall maintain a list of interpreters developed from a list provided by the Tennessee council for the deaf, deaf-blind, and hard of hearing.

History: Acts 1985, ch. 478, § 41; 1987, ch. 145, §§ 6, 7, 18, 19, 21, 31; 1988, ch. 964, § 2; 2004, ch. 740, §§ 2, 3; 2005, ch. 391, § 10; 2009, ch. 336, § 1; 2011, ch. 410, § 3(e); 2012, ch. 888, § 1; 2013, ch. 236, § 21; 2015, ch. 231, § 1.