The State of Texas takes charges that involve harming a child or putting a child in harm’s way exceptionally seriously, and this is reflected in the charge of child abandonment and the charge of child endangerment.
Children are a joy and an immense responsibility, but failure to employ the necessary care can prove disastrous. As a result, important laws are in place to help ensure that children remain well protected.
If you are facing a child abandonment or endangerment charge – or any criminal charge – having skilled legal counsel in your corner from the outset is the best course of action you can take, and an experienced Killeen criminal defense attorney is standing by to help.
Child abandonment refers to leaving a child who is under the age of 15 anywhere without providing the necessary and reasonable care that other adults would provide in a similar situation for a child of the same age and ability. Intentionally abandoning a child under the age of 15 anywhere in which the circumstances expose them to unreasonable risk is a form of child abandonment. Examples include the following offenses:
Leaving a young child alone in a shopping center
Letting a little one wander around outside unsupervised
Intentionally leaving a child anywhere that exposes them to unreasonable risk is a crime in the State of Texas.
Texas law requires anyone who suspects child abuse or neglect, including abandonment, to alert the appropriate authorities. This mandatory reporting extends beyond healthcare professionals, daycare providers, and teachers in the State of Texas – it includes all of us. Even those professionals who are afforded privileged personal communications, like the following, are included in mandatory reporting:
Mental health professionals
While mandatory reporting applies to all adults in Texas, those who have contact with children in the course of their regular duties and who are either licensed or certified by the state or who work for an agency or facility that is licensed or certified by the state, must report any form of child abuse or neglect, including abandonment, within 48 hours of witnessing it. Failure to adhere to mandatory reporting laws can lead to misdemeanor charges that are punishable by up to 180 days in jail and up to $2,000 in fines.
Lapses in Judgement
The laws regarding child abandonment are not set in stone because the state recognizes that parents have to make difficult decisions regarding their children in the face of difficult situations. For example, imagine a parent who has to go to work in order to support their child who is not yet quite old enough to stay home alone. If the babysitter is sick, no backup is available, and the parent leaves the child alone for the afternoon out of desperation – while ensuring they stay connected by phone – the law can be forgiving.
However, the law can be much harsher for a parent who makes it their practice to leave their young child alone during work hours – without concerning himself or herself with securing childcare or taking the steps necessary to stay connected.
The court – or jury – hearing the case must weigh the circumstances involved before issuing a verdict on the matter. The situation can make a significant difference in the charge brought and in the outcome of the case.
Penalties and Fines
The penalties and fines for child abandonment and child endangerment vary according to the degree of risk and intent involved.
Intent to Return for the Child
When an adult is charged with intentionally abandoning a child somewhere in which they are exposed to an unreasonable risk of harm – with the intent of returning for them – it is a state jail felony. The same is true if the adult engages in conduct that puts the child in imminent danger of bodily injury, death, or mental or physical impairment. A conviction can lead to 180 days to 24 months in jail and fines of up to $10,000.
No Intent to Return for the Child
When an adult is charged with intentionally leaving a child somewhere in which they are exposed to an unreasonable risk of harm – with no intention of returning for them – it is a third-degree felony, and a conviction carries a prison sentence of 2 to 20 years and penalties of up to $10,000.
When an adult is charged with intentionally leaving a child somewhere in which they are likely to suffer bodily injury, mental or physical impairment, or death – with no intention of returning for them – the charge is elevated to a second-degree felony, which carries a sentence of from 2 to 20 years and fines of up to $10,000. If you have been charged with child abandonment, bringing your strongest defense is paramount.
Termination of Parental Rights
A parent’s rights can be involuntarily terminated in response to abandonment in specific circumstances. If the parent voluntarily leaves a child alone or in someone else’s possession without providing adequate support for at least six months, it is grounds for termination of parental rights.
It’s clear to see that the consequences of child abandonment can be incredibly serious. As such, you need a skilled Killeen criminal defense attorney by your side if you face child abandonment charges.
Child endangerment can apply to a wide range of circumstances. The crime is identified as acting in a manner that intentionally, knowingly, recklessly, or as a matter of criminal negligence places a child who is younger than 15 in harm’s way, which includes being in imminent danger of any of the following risks:
Certain situations presumptively put children in imminent danger in the State of Texas:
Possessing, consuming, or manufacturing methamphetamine in the presence of a child
Unlawfully possessing and consuming a Penalty 1 group drug while caring for a child
Caring for a child who is found with methamphetamine in their system
Engaging in sexual activity when a child is in the vicinity
Leaving an unsecured weapon in the presence of a child
The Reasonable Person Standard
When Texas courts are called upon to assess whether child abandonment or child endangerment charges apply, they turn to what is known as the reasonable person standard. This standard involves comparing the defendant's actions against those of other reasonable adults in similar situations with children of similar ages and abilities. For example, most reasonable adults believe it is unacceptable to have a child in the car while driving impaired, to leave a toddler home alone, or to let a young child wander unsupervised in a public park or mall.
Texas laws do not attempt to list every scenario that qualifies as child endangerment but, instead, focus on the specific circumstances involved. Examples that qualify as child endangerment include the following offenses:
Leaving a young child alone in the house for a prolonged amount of time
Leaving a child under the age of 7 alone in a car for more than five minutes
Failing to provide a child with necessary food, clothing, or shelter – barring instances that are based on financial inability to cover these needs
Placing a child in a situation that puts them at risk of bodily injury or harm or failing to remove a child from such a situation
Placing a child in a situation in which they would be exposed to a substantial risk of mental or physical harm
Placing a child in a situation in which they would be exposed to a substantial risk of harmful sexual conduct or failing to remove a child from such a situation
Placing a child in a situation in which they would be exposed to a substantial risk of exposure to another child being abused or failing to remove a child from such a situation
Failing to seek the medical care a child needs to protect them from bodily injury, disfigurement, or death
Not requiring a child to wear a seatbelt – as mandated by Texas law
Driving recklessly or while impaired with a child in the car
Allowing a child access to alcohol or drugs
Engaging in sexual activity in view of a child
Failing to secure firearms when children are present
Requirements Childcare Professionals Face
Childcare professionals accept an immense responsibility that includes not only serving as children’s guides but also protecting their safety and well-being while the children are in their care. As such, daycare workers throughout Texas must undergo at least 30 hours of annual training in addition to a pre-application course. They must also meet requirements related to first-aid training, CPR training, and transportation safety training.
Those who run home daycares must successfully navigate a rigorous training process that includes expansive reading materials, compliance standards, background checks for licensing, home inspections, fees, and beyond.
Determining When a Child Is Old Enough to Be Left Alone
At some point, children reach an age when they are old enough to spend a short amount of time alone, which becomes progressively longer until they’re perfectly capable of staying on their own. The State of Texas does not designate a specific age at which children are old enough to be left home alone. Instead, each parent is responsible for making reasonable decisions given a range of variables that include all the following factors:
The child’s level of emotional maturity
The child’s mental and physical abilities, including any disabilities
The child’s overall health
The child’s ability to keep themselves safe
The degree to which the house is safe for the child to be left in unsupervised
The child’s ability to effectively respond to emergencies, such as their own illness, a storm, or a fire
Whether more than one child is being left unsupervised in the home
Whether a responsible adult is standing by to help if need be
Whether the child is capable of contacting someone who can provide help if needed
When it comes to determining when it’s safe to leave your child or children home alone, it’s important to take stock of the entire situation. For example, if you live out in the country with no neighbors for half a mile or more, it’s a very different matter than living on a street crowded with homes that are filled with neighbors you and your children know well.
Child endangerment charges can be complicated and it’s not always easy to tell how the court will rule. As such, you need an experienced criminal defense lawyer to help you navigate your case. Contact us today to get a FREE consultation to discuss your case.
Abuse, Neglect, and Exploitation
The matters of child abuse and neglect are intertwined with child abandonment and endangerment. Child abuse refers to causing mental, emotional, physical, or sexual injury to a child.
Child neglect, on the other hand, refers to failing to provide a child with any of the following resources to the degree that it leaves them at risk of harm:
Leaving a child in a situation in which they’re at risk of being harmed is also a form of neglect.
Reach Out to an Experienced Killeen Criminal Defense Attorney for the Help You Need Today
Charges related to child abandonment and child endangerment are serious charges, but their application can vary considerably according to the circumstances involved. As such, it is critical to have professional legal counsel on your side from the outset. If you or someone you care about is facing either charge, it’s time to take action.
Brett Pritchard at The Law Office of Brett H. Pritchard, proudly serving Killeen, Texas, is a savvy criminal defense attorney with an impressive range of experience guiding challenging cases like yours toward advantageous outcomes that uphold our clients’ legal rights. Our legal team has the experience, drive, and legal insight to help, and we welcome your inquiries.