As a parent, you are required to give your child the basic necessities he needs to be safe and in good health. Texas has laws governing both neglect of a child and abandonment of a child. Neglect falls under civil law, while abandonment of a child may result in criminal charges.
Child Abandonment in Texas
Child abandonment laws in Texas define 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 adult would leave a child of that age and ability.
For example, you could face child abandonment charges if you leave a five-year-old child alone in a public place, or leave a three-year-old alone at home. Another form of abandonment is intentionally abandoning a child in a place that exposes that child to an unreasonable risk of harm or mental impairment.
Child Neglect in Texas
If you do not provide safe and adequate food, shelter, clothing, medical care, protection and supervision for your child, or arrange to have someone else meet those needs, you may be charged with neglect. If you fail to make these provisions, you may be charged with neglect under Texas civil law. Neglect is considered a form of abuse and must include "observable and material impairment" or "substantial risk" to the child.
Child Abandonment in Texas Punishment
Texas law makes exceptions for minor mistakes made by parents, such as leaving a child at home alone for an hour because you had to go to work. The punishment for abandoning a child depends on the seriousness of the charge.
Simple abandonment that doesn't place the child in imminent danger of death, bodily injury or physical or mental impairment is a state felony punishable by six months to two years in state jail and a fine. If the court finds that the act of abandonment placed the child in imminent danger of death, bodily injury or physical or mental impairment, it is classed as a second-degree felony punishable by up to 20 years in prison and a fine.
Reporting Neglect and Abandonment
If you suspect a child has been neglected or abandoned in Texas, you are required to report it. This law applies to everyone, even those who may otherwise rely on professional privilege to keep personal communications private, such as attorneys and clergy members. If you don't report suspected neglect to the authorities, you may be punished by up to one year in state jail and a fine.