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Child Abuse | Facts and Questions

What does CPS in Texas consider abuse?

CPS will become involved with a family when someone reports that a child in the home is being abused or neglected. Abuse happens when a child is either physically, emotionally, sexually, or mentally abused. Even when a parent does not physically injure a child, the parent can still be considered abusive by CPS. Additionally, parents have a legal duty to take steps to prevent their children from being abused by other people.

Child abuse can also include other actions, such as encouraging a child to engage in criminal sexual conduct, using drugs around a child, taking sexual pictures of a child, or allowing a child to use drugs. Neglect occurs when a child’s physical, medical, and emotional needs have not been adequately met. Most CPS cases involve neglect, not child abuse. 

CPS has a broad definition of neglect that can include everything from allowing a child to live in a home that is dirty to leaving a child at home alone. Neglect can also include failing to take a sick or injured child to the doctor when they need medical care. Finally, many neglect cases occur when a parent has an alcohol or drug problem and doesn’t pay enough attention to their child’s physical, mental, or emotional needs.

What is considered unsafe living conditions for a child?

Under Texas law, renters, children, people with disabilities, and the elderly have a legal recourse to remedy unsafe living conditions. Unsafe living conditions exist when conditions inside the home, apartment, or other dwelling cause the health of the occupants or the well-being of the community to be endangered. Remember that a home can be untidy or dirty but may not rise to the level of unsafe living conditions. 

CPS will only remove a child from a home due to unsafe living conditions when they believe the child is abused, neglected, abandoned, or there’s no parent to take care of the child. When the unsafe living conditions make the home dangerous to the child’s physical or mental health, CPS will remove the child. Unsafe living conditions can include any of the following:

  • Pest infestations that are not being treated
  • Unstable roofs
  • Dangerous flooring
  • Physical and verbal abuse 
  • Water leaks and flooding
  • Missing parts of the roof or walls that expose the home to the elements
  • Fire hazards
  • Toxic mold
  • Carpets filled with animal feces and urine due to too many pets

What can’t CPS do in Texas?

Knowing that CPS is investigating you can be a helpless feeling. Parents who go through CPS cases are under great stress as they deal with CPS while their child is removed from the home or taken to live in a relative or stranger’s house. Much of the stress is caused by CPS, unfortunately. If you do not stand up for yourself and ensure that CPS does not act outside of their bounds, they could take advantage of you. 

For example, Texas law prohibits CPS from seizing a child from his or her parents without one of the following:

  • A court order
  • Parental consent
  • Imminent danger of physical or sexual abuse

Except for an emergency, CPS must obtain a court order before removing a child from their home in nearly all circumstances. CPS cannot continue keeping a child from his or her parents unless they schedule a court hearing within 14 days of removing the child from the home. This hearing is called the full adversary hearing. It is the first meaningful opportunity a judge has to review the removal and decide whether the child should remain in custody or be returned home. You will be able to mount your defense at this hearing.

If the court decides that the child should remain in foster care, CPS must prepare a service plan that will outline the parent’s steps to address risk factors. These steps will have the parents be able to have his or her child returned to the home. CPS must abide by all of the time limits stated under Texas law. Working with an experienced attorney will help you hold CPS accountable, regarding what they can and cannot do in Texas. 

What is the penalty for child abuse in Texas?

In Texas, the penalties for child abuse range in severity depending on the severity of the abuse and the facts of the case. Any person who knowingly or intentionally causes bodily harm to a child can be charged with a first-degree felony. A person who intentionally or knowingly causes serious mental deficiency, impairment, or injury to a child can face first-degree felony charges. First-degree felony charges are the most serious of all child abuse charges and can result in imprisonment between five and ten years and a fine of up to $10,000.

If the prosecutors find that the conduct was reckless and unintentional, the defendant will be charged with a second-degree felony punishable by two to twenty years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000. Most sexual assault charges involving minors are second-degree felonies. However, when a defendant is accused of threatening to harm a child or forcing the child to perform or receive a sexual act, they can face first-degree felony charges for aggravated sexual assault.

Is there a statute of limitations for molestation charges in Texas?

A statute of limitations means that someone cannot be prosecuted for an alleged offense after a certain amount of time has passed. It is like a legal expiration date, after which the state cannot prosecute the defendant. Prosecutions must bring sex crime cases within 20 years of the alleged event. For serious sex crime charges like sexual performance by a child younger than 17, the statute of limitations is 20 years. For some sex crimes, there can be no time limit at all for the prosecution. There is no statute of limitations for sexual assault of a child or indecency with a child. A person can be prosecuted for those crimes any time after the event occurred, regardless of how many years have passed.

Other Resources

For more information on child abuse allegations and defense in Texas, please see:



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