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Texas Child Neglect and Child Abandonment Laws

Imagine that your daughter needs to go to the dentist, but you just can't afford the bill. Your daughter's teeth keep getting worse until she ends up in the hospital with a serious infection, and now you're facing a charge of child neglect. Is this possible?

The short answer is yes. As a parent, you are required to provide your children with the basic necessities to maintain their health and safety. If you live in Texas, it's important to understand the basics of the Lone Star State's child neglect and abandonment laws.

Child Neglect Laws in Texas

A parent or guardian is responsible for providing safe and adequate food, clothing, shelter, protection, medical care, and supervision for a child, or arranging to have someone else provide these needs. Texas law defines neglect as the failure to meet this responsibility. Neglect, like other forms of abuse, must involve "observable and material impairment" or "substantial risk" to the child for the civil statute to apply. There are also criminal sanctions against anyone who knowingly abandons or endangers a child.

Understanding the Law Concerning Child Abandonment

Texas law defines criminal child abandonment as leaving a child younger than age 15 in any place without providing reasonable and necessary care, or in circumstances under which no reasonable, similarly situated adult would leave a child of that age and ability. Examples include leaving a six-year-old child alone in the food court of a mall or leaving a two-year-old alone at home. Criminal charges would also extend to intentionally abandoning a child in any place that expose the child to an unreasonable risk of harm or mental impairment.

Mandatory Reporting of Neglect and Abandonment

Texas law requires anyone with knowledge of suspected child abuse or neglect to report it to the

appropriate authorities. This mandatory reporting applies to everyone, not just teachers or health care professionals. The law even includes individuals whose personal communications are typically seen as privileged, such as attorneys, clergy members, and health care professionals. Failing to report suspected neglect is a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by as much as a year in state jail and a fine up to $4,000.

Punishment for Child Neglect or Abandonment

Sometimes parents make mistakes. Maybe you had to go to work and the sitter was sick. You thought everything would be fine for a few hours. Texas law makes allowances for certain parental errors in judgment. Punishment for abandoning or endangering a child are on a sliding scale based on the seriousness of the charge.

Simple abandonment is a state jail felony punishable by six months to two years in state jail and a fine. If there is a finding that the abandonment placed the child in imminent danger of death, bodily injury, or physical or mental impairment, it will be charged as a second-degree felony punishable by two to 20 years in prison and a fine.

Overview of Texas Child Neglect and Abandonment Laws

The following chart highlights important aspects of Texas laws concerning child neglect and abandonment.

Texas Statutes
Signs of Neglect

The State of Texas recognizes the following signs of child neglect:

  • Obvious malnourishment
  • Lack of personal cleanliness
  • Torn or dirty clothes
  • Left unattended for long periods of time
  • Need for medical or dental care
  • Frequent tardiness or absence from school
Criminal Penalties

The penalties for neglecting or abandoning a child are as following:

  • Abandonment with Intent to Return: 6 months to 2 years in state jail and a fine
  • Abandonment No Intent to Return: 2 to 10 years in prison and a fine
  • Abandonment Placing Child in Imminent Danger: 2 to 20 years in prison and a fine

Note: Laws are subject to change. It's important to verify the information you read about by conducting your own research or consulting with a local attorney.

Related Resources

Looking for additional information on self-defense laws in Texas? The following links are a great starting point:

Help is Available From a Defense Attorney

Any charge of child abandonment or neglect is a serious matter. A conviction could have a permanent impact on your life, as well as the life of your child. Contact a Texas defense attorney today to learn more about the charges against you and potential defenses.

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