Texas laws protect children, one of our most vulnerable populations, from abuse and neglect. Still, far too many children suffer abuse and neglect each year. Abuse and neglect of children can take on many forms, and it’s essential to understand the differences between each.
Childhood Physical Abuse
Examples of physical child abuse include any or all of the following:
- An injury that threatens to cause or causes significant harm to a child under the age of 18 (not including accidents and reasonable parental discipline)
- Failing to take reasonable action to stop someone else from causing physical injury and significant harm to the child—for instance, if you knew your boyfriend was physically abusing your daughter but took no action against it
- Using a controlled substance and causing the child physical harm
- “Causing, expressly permitting or encouraging a child” to take a controlled substance
Common examples of childhood physical abuse include:
- Burning a child with a cigarette
- Allow the child access to controlled substances or tell them they should use controlled substances
Childhood Emotional Abuse
Unfortunately, emotional abuse can be even more challenging to prove. Even still, Texas Family Code § 261.001(1) defines emotional abuse as the following:
- Harming a child emotionally or mentally to the point that it impairs their growth or development
- Permitting or causing the child to be in an environment causing continued mental or emotional injury that impairs their growth, psychological functioning, or development
- Using a controlled substance in a manner to cause a child’s emotional or mental injury
A common example of childhood emotional abuse is telling a child they are no good or will never live up to expectations.
Childhood Sexual Abuse
Texas Family Code § 261.001(1) defines sexual abuse as the following:
- Sexual conduct destructive to the child’s physical, mental, and emotional welfare
- Not making a reasonable effort to stop the sexual behavior that is endangering the child
- Coercing or encouraging the child to engage in sexual conduct
- “Causing, permitting, encouraging, engaging in, or allowing” the filming, photographing or depicting of the child with the knowledge that the media is legally defined as “obscene”
- “Causing, permitting, encouraging, engaging in, or allowing” a child to engage in a sexual performance
Sadly, a common type of sexual abuse in Texas is for parents to know that their significant other is sexually abusing their child, yet they do nothing about it.
Childhood Medical Neglect
Texas Family Code § 261.001(4) says that medical neglect is defined as failing to “seek, obtain or follow through with” medical care for a child if that failure results in:
- “Substantial risk” of injury, disfigurement, or death, OR
- “Observable and material impairment” of the child’s development, growth, or functioning
However, Texas CPS takes into consideration if the parent(s) has a history of failing or refusing to seek medical care for their child in addition to:
- The severity of the child’s medical condition
- If the child is in pain due to lack of medical care
- The potential impact of not obtaining care
Parents or legal guardians may not be considered negligent if the failure to obtain medical care with a specific treatment is because of legitimate religious beliefs. For example, parents who subscribe to the Jehovah’s Witness faith refusing a blood transfusion for their child wouldn’t be considered medical neglect or abuse.
Under Texas law, childhood abandonment is leaving a child in a situation that would put them at risk of physical or mental and failing to make arrangements for the child’s care without the intention to come back for the child. So, for example, dropping a child off at a drop-in daycare center and failing to return for them would be childhood abandonment.
Childhood Physical Neglect
Childhood physical neglect is the failure to provide a child with basic necessities, such as shelter, water, food, and clothing. However, the definition excludes the inability to provide these basic necessities because of financial inability unless the parent or legal guardian refuses the relief services offered.
Signs of physical neglect can include but are not limited to the following:
- Contaminated water or faulty plumbing systems
- Faulty heating, cooling, or ventilation systems
- Fecal contamination
- Decaying walls, stairways, ceilings, or floors
- Ineffective waste disposal
- Broken windows or shards of glass within the living areas of the home
- Untreated infestations of roaches, fleas, or rodents
- Unsafe sleeping arrangements
- Uncontrolled mold or mildew
An example of physical neglect would be parents locking a child in a closet and giving the child very little, if any, food or water for an unreasonable amount of time.
Childhood Neglectful Supervision
Under Texas law, neglectful supervision is when a child is placed in or not removed from the following:
- Circumstances that a reasonable individual would know are beyond a child’s physical, mental, and maturity level, and those circumstances resulted in injury or a significant risk of danger
- Circumstances in which the child is at risk of exposure to sexual conduct
- Circumstances in which the child is “exposed to acts or omissions” defined as abuse under the Texas Family Code § 261.001(1)(E), (F), (G), (H), or (K)
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It’s essential to remember that accidents are generally not considered neglectful supervision under the law. However, domestic violence between spouses within the presence or earshot of a child can also be negligent supervision by a parent under Texas laws.
Many different actions can fall under Texas law’s definition of child abuse and neglect. If you need help facing such a situation, reach out to the experienced family law attorneys at Hoelscher Gebbia Cepeda PLLC. You can contact us online or call (210) 222-9132.