Parents, caretakers, family members or guardians of children are often shocked or surprised to find they have been accused of child endangerment or abandoning a child. Since Texas has such strict child abuse, neglect, endangerment and abandonment reporting requirements, law enforcement officials will generally immediately investigate allegations of abandonment or endangerment. Additionally, under Section 261.101 of the Texas Family Code, anyone who has reason to believe a child’s mental or physical health is endangered or has reason to believe the child has been abandoned is required to make a report with the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services.
Requirements for Child Care Professionals
Individuals who are considered child care professionals have a higher duty to report child endangerment or abandonment and can be charged with a misdemeanor or state jail felony if they fail to do so. These individuals are required to report child abandonment or endangerment within a specified period of time. A professional is defined under Texas law as anyone who is licensed or certified by the state or is an employee of a facility licensed or certified by the state and has direct contact with children during the ordinary course of their occupation.
Child care professionals can include:
- Daycare employees
- Juvenile detention or correctional officers
- Juvenile probation officers
- Reproductive service clinic or facility employees
Understanding Child Abandonment or Endangerment Laws
According to Section 22.041 of the Texas Penal Code, the term “abandon” means to leave a child anywhere without reasonable and necessary care that another adult would not leave a child of the same age and ability under no circumstances.
Additionally, according to Section 261.001(1) of the Texas Family Code, “abuse” can include the following acts or omissions:
- When an adult allows a child to be in a situation where the child is subjected to mental or emotional injury; and
- When an adult fails to make a reasonable effort to prevent the acts of another person that could result in the child’s physical injury.
The Texas Family Code also defines “neglect” under Section 261.001(4) as:
- Leaving a child in a situation where they could be exposed to a substantial risk of physical or mental harm;
- Placing a child in or failing to remove a child from a situation that can result in bodily injury or a substantial risk of immediate harm or harmful sexual conduct to the child;
- The failure to provide a child with food, clothing or shelter necessary to sustain the child’s life; and/or
- The failure to seek medical care for a child that results in a substantial risk of death, disfigurement or bodily injury.
Grounds a Criminal Charge
As defined in Section 22.041 of the Texas Penal Code, an individual can be charged with abandoning or endangering a child if they intentionally abandon a child under the age 15 under any set of circumstances that expose the child to an unreasonable risk of harm. The alleged offender must have had custody, care or control of the child.
Additionally, an individual can be charged with this offense if they intentionally, recklessly, knowingly or through criminal negligence engage in conduct that puts a child under the age of 15 in imminent danger of bodily injury, physical or mental impairment or death.
An individual is presumed to have put a child in danger of death, bodily injury or mental or physical impairment if they:
- Manufactured, possessed or used methamphetamines (meth) in front of a child;
- There is any presence of methamphetamine in the child’s body; or
- Used, inhaled, ingested or injected a controlled substance in Penalty Group 1 in front of a child.
Potential Criminal Penalties
The general penalties and punishments for a conviction for child abandonment or child endangerment are defined in Chapter 12 of the Texas Penal Code.
- A conviction for child abandonment or endangerment is generally punishable a state jail felony if the alleged offender abandoned the child with the intent to return for the child, which can result in a jail sentence ranging from 180 days to two years and/or a fine up to $10,000.
- However, a conviction for child abandonment or endangerment is punishable as a felony of the third degree, which can result in a prison sentence ranging from two to ten years and/or a fine up to $10,000, if the alleged offender abandoned the child without intent to return for the child.
- A conviction for child endangerment or abandonment is punishable as a felony of the second degree if the alleged offender abandoned the child in a situation that would likely cause the child bodily injury, death or mental or physical impairment. This degree of offense can result in a prison sentence ranging from two to 20 years and/or a fine up to $10,000.
In addition to the penalties listed above, an individual that has been charged with child endangerment or abandonment can face the following repercussions and consequences:
- Ineligibility to receive certain types of public assistance;
- Ineligibility to adopt a child or become a foster parent;
- Ineligibility be admitted into certain educational programs;
- Ineligibility to own or possess a firearm
- Inability to obtain employment and/or loss of current employment or professional licensing
Common Defenses to Child Endangerment Accusations
Occasionally, defenses may be available to certain situations involving child abandonment or endangerment. These defenses are not applicable to every set of circumstances, so it is important to first speak with an experienced family crimes defense lawyer to determine whether any of the following defenses may apply to the charges specifically against you. Among the most solid legal defenses to allegations of child endangerment or abandonment are:
- Lack of Intent
- Mistake of Fact
- Lack of Knowledge
Additionally, it is a defense to child endangerment if the alleged offender placed the child under the age of 15 in a situation that could cause bodily injury, death or mental or physical impairment if the situation was an organized athletic event and appropriate safety equipment and procedures were used at the event. Also, an exception to charges for this offense is if the alleged offender voluntarily placed the child with a designated emergency infant care provider.
Contact Dunham & Jones to Learn More About Your Rights
Child endangerment allegations can have lifelong repercussions, aside from criminal penalties. To avoid these consequences, it is in your best interest to seek legal help as soon as possible. Contact Dunham & Jones for a consultation if you or someone you know has been accused of endangering the life of a minor in Texas and we will immediately begin crafting an aggressive defense strategy for your case.