Texas Laws on Child Neglect

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The Texas Family Code, beginning with Chapter 261, defines the term child neglect and sets forth the steps the state must take to protect neglected children. The Texas Penal Code, including portions of Chapters 21, 22 and 43, lists the elements of criminal child neglect and the penalties for persons found guilty of these crimes.


Child neglect laws under the Texas Family Code apply to any individual–parent, guardian, foster parent or member of the household–responsible for the care, custody or welfare of the child. Except in the case of child abandonment, these laws also apply to teachers and child care workers. Texas Family Code Section 101.003 defines a child as a person younger than the age of 18 who has not been married or emancipated. The Texas Penal Code sections related to child neglect list the specific ages to which each act or omission applies.


The Texas Family Code, Chapter 261, lists the acts or omissions that may constitute child neglect: abandoning a child in a situation where the child would be exposed to a substantial risk of physical or mental harm; placing a child in or failing to remove a child from a potentially harmful situation; failing to obtain medical care in a situation in which the result may be death or injury; or failing to provide the child with food, clothing or shelter. Failing to assume parental responsibility–refusing to allow a child to return home after running away or when released from residential care–may also constitute neglect.

Reporting Neglect

If you believe that a child is being neglected, you are required by law to report it, according to the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services. TDFPS operates a toll-free hotline that is available 24 hours a day, but you should call 911 in an emergency situation.

Responsibilities of State

Texas Family Code Chapters 261 and 262 apply to the responsibilities of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services in handling cases of alleged child neglect. The state is required to investigate all such reports and, if the situation warrants it, to offer services to the family or remove the child from the home. In extreme cases, the state may ask the court to terminate the rights of the parents.

Criminal Cases

The Texas Penal Code lists several grounds for criminal prosecution of child neglect. A person who leaves a child younger than 7 years of age alone in a car, or with another child younger than the age of 14, for longer than five minutes may be guilty of a Class C misdemeanor. Abandoning a child younger than 15 years of age or placing him in imminent danger of death, bodily injury or physical or mental impairment is considered a felony offense. If a person’s failure to act causes bodily injury or serious mental deficiency, impairment or injury to a child aged 14 or under, he may be guilty of a felony.