The care and supervision of children is not only a joy, but a serious responsibility. It is one that most individuals approach with a great deal of consideration and training. Because of this, many Texas parents, along with individuals certified as childcare workers and other professionals, are often surprised when they discover someone has accused them of Child Endangerment or Abandonment, a charge potentially carrying a number of significant consequences.
What is Child Endangerment in Texas?
While most states, including Texas, apply child endangerment laws broadly, given the wide range of applicable circumstances, an individual can face criminal charges if he or she leaves a child under 15 years of age without adequate care and supervision or in circumstances that expose the child to danger. According to Texas state law (Penal Code 22.041), child endangerment involves any act that falls into the following two categories:
- A person commits an offense if, having custody, care, or control of a child younger than 15 years, he intentionally abandons the child in any place under circumstances that expose the child to an unreasonable risk of harm.
- A person commits an offense if he intentionally, knowingly, recklessly, or with criminal negligence, by act or omission, engages in conduct that places a child younger than 15 years in imminent danger of death, bodily injury, or physical or mental impairment.
When determining whether a parent’s or guardian’s actions constitute Child Abandonment or Endangerment, Texas courts apply the reasonable person standard. Texas judicial representatives compare the defendant’s actions with those of any other average adult, given the same or similar circumstances with a child of a similar age and ability.
For instance, most adults would not believe it acceptable to drive while intoxicated with their child in the car. Similarly, even moderately responsible adults would not leave a toddler alone in the home for long periods or let them wander unsupervised through a large city park.
It is important to understand that because the potential variations are numerous, Texas Penal Code does not attempt to list every possible offense that might qualify as Child Endangerment. Individual charges will be judged on a case-by-case basis within the Texas judicial system. Some examples include:
- Failure to provide a child with food, clothing, or shelter necessary to sustain life, excluding cases of financial inability
- Leaving a child in a situation where they might be exposed to a substantial risk of physical or mental harm
- Placing a child in or by neglect, failing to remove a child from a situation that can cause bodily injury or risk of immediate harm or harmful sexual conduct to the child.
- Placing a child in or failing to remove the child from a situation in where they would be exposed to a substantial risk of harmful sexual conduct
- Placing a child in or failing to remove the child from a situation in which the child would be exposed to abuse committed against another child
- The failure to seek proper medical care for a child resulting in a substantial risk of death, disfigurement, or bodily injury
- Leaving a young child alone in the house for a prolonged period
- Leaving a child under seven years of age by themselves in a car for more than five minutes
- Not requiring a child to wear a seatbelt
- Reckless driving with a child inside
- Driving under the influence with a child
- Allowing a child access to drugs or alcohol
- Engaging in sexual activity in view of a child
- Keeping unsecured firearms in the presence of a child
- Using Schedule 1 drugs in front of a child, including cocaine, mescaline, ketamine, methamphetamine, opioids like heroin and various painkillers, along with psilocybin and other hallucinogens.
Requirements for Childcare Professionals
Childcare professionals have a big job to do. They not only need to be effective guides and good leaders, but remain dedicated to standards and practices that consistently protect the safety and well-being of those in their care, no matter what obstacles life throws at them. They also bear the responsibility of staying aware of violations going on around them or possible instances of Child Endangerment within the communities and organizations in which they serve.
In Texas, daycare employees must go through at least 30 hours of annual training, in addition to any requirements for the licensing pre-application course. They must also attend first-aid, CPR training and transportation safety training.
Home daycare owners must walk through a rigorous process of training courses, reading materials, compliance standards, home inspections, licensing, background checks, payment of appropriate fees and much more.
A key factor at work here is that it isn’t only individuals traditionally considered childcare workers who must remain both protective and vigilant, several others can be considered Childcare Professionals based on their involvement, interactions and oversight of children within their sphere of influence. These include, but are not limited to:
- Reproductive service clinic or facility employees
- Psychologists and counselors
- Clergy members
- Dentists and chiropractors
- Physical therapists
- Social workers
- Juvenile detention or correctional officers
- Juvenile probation officers
Current Texas law requirements dictate that professionals such as doctors, teachers, nurses or child daycare workers must make a verbal report of suspected child abuse or neglect within 48 hours. Failure to do so constitutes a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment of up to 180 days and/or a fine of up to $2,000 (Texas Family Code, Chapter 261). In this way, omission can carry serious penalties beyond one’s own sense of guilt or shame.
Penalties for Child Endangerment in Texas
Some states apply either a misdemeanor or a felony to a conviction of Child Endangerment, depending on the specific circumstances of the offense. However, Texas always punishes those found guilty of this crime with one of three felony convictions, as defined in Chapter 12 of the Texas Penal Code. In simplified terms, the following three scenarios apply:
- A conviction of Child Abandonment or Endangerment is punishable as a state jail felony if the alleged offender abandoned the child with the intent to return or if they leave the child in a place exposing the child to an unreasonable risk of harm with intent to return for the child, or engages in conduct that places a child younger than 15 years of age in imminent danger of death, bodily injury, or physical or mental impairment. This can yield a sentence ranging from 180 days to two years and/or a fine of up to $10,000.
- Child Endangerment is punishable as a third-degree felony if an alleged offender intentionally abandons the child in any place under circumstances that expose the child to an unreasonable risk of harm without intent to return for the child, and carries a sentence as long as five years and/or a fine of up to $10,000.
- If the alleged offender abandoned the child in a situation that would likely cause bodily injury, death or mental or physical impairment, a second-degree felony would apply, which carries a sentence ranging from two to 20 years and/or a fine of up to $10,000.
The Texas Penal Code expands on these in greater detail and spends considerable time on drug-related offenses. Individuals who look after children should make themselves aware of these laws to better understand their role, and how to protect both themselves and the children in their care.
Collateral Consequences of Child Endangerment in Texas
Fines and jail time aren’t the only consequences one risks with Child Endangerment. Offenders face additional collateral consequences, which can significantly affect their life in a number of ways. These include:
- Loss of voting rights
- Loss of or the inability to obtain government assistance
- Inability to serve on a jury
- Loss of one’s right to own a firearm
- Losing one’s job
- Difficulty finding employment or the inability to work in certain professions
- Loss of certifications
- Increased difficulty obtaining loans
- Difficulty joining the military without considerable effort and a moral conduct waiver
- Losing one’s children if Child Protective Services (CPS) gets involved
- Ineligibility to adopt or become a foster parent
Not all of these are guaranteed, given that some are tied directly to laws, while others represent peripheral effects within one’s life, work and community. However, several, such as voting or firearm rights, are standard. Texas takes Child Endangerment seriously, and felony convictions have the potential to negatively and permanently change several things in one’s life.
The Best Strategy if Charged With Child Endangerment in Texas
In the state of Texas, Child Endangerment or Child Abandonment is considered a serious crime, punishable by a felony conviction and substantial jail time and fines. The fallout doesn’t end there either. A range of additional significant consequences can arise from this conviction, affecting one’s rights, freedoms, and even one’s ability to hold a job, obtain financial products, adopt or raise children or pursue work in a specific field.
Because of these consequences, along with the personal, relational and social effects, every individual accused of Child Endangerment should make the choice to fight it. While myriad defenses exist, the best strategy is always the same, the one which the defendant and their lawyer decide is best for their specific situation. The key to this is partnering with a qualified, experienced attorney.
Attempting to act as one’s own defense or not taking these accusations seriously can ruin an individual’s life. The right criminal defense attorney is not only their most valuable asset when arguing their case, but a defendant’s most important ally throughout the entire process.
For more information about Child Endangerment and Abandonment charges in Texas, or to schedule a consultation with our team, schedule a free case review.
Family Code: Title 5. The Parent-Child Relationship and the Suit Affecting the Parent-Child Relationship, Subtitle E. Protection of the Child, Chapter 261. Investigation of Report of Child Abuse or Neglect, Subchapter A. General Provisions
Penal Code Title 5. Offenses Against the Person, Chapter 22. Assaultive Offenses
Cornell Law School: Legal Information Institute (LII)
Texas Health and Home Workers: Become a Child Car Home Provider
Texas Attorney General.Gov: Your Legal Obligation