What is Considered Child Abuse in Texas?

Unfortunately, reports of child abuse are frequent in family law cases. If you have been falsely accused of child abuse, you probably feel a sense of shock, and you may be trying to determine how you should proceed. With so much on the line, including custody of your children and facing a potential criminal charge, it is important that you have someone on your side who can help you clear your name. The first step you should take one facing child abuse charges is to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney. 

Being convicted of a crime against a child, whether child abuse or domestic violence, can have life altering consequences, including years in prison. At Wilder Law Firm, Our attorneys have successfully represented many clients just like you. Contact us today to schedule your free initial consultation. It is also important that you understand how Texas defines child abuse and the difference between domestic violence and abuse.

The Definition of Child Abuse in Texas

Many different types of actions can be considered child abuse in Texas. The definitions of child abuse and neglect include specific actions or omissions by a person responsible for the child’s care, custody, or welfare. Section 261.001 of the Texas Family Code includes all of the following actions and omissions as abuse of a child:

  • “Mental or emotional injury to a child that results in an observable and material impairment in the child’s growth, development, or psychological functioning.
  • Causing or permitting the child to be in a situation where the child sustains a mental or emotional injury that results in an observable and material impairment in the child’s growth, development, or psychological functioning.
  • Physical injury that results in substantial harm to the child, or the genuine threat of substantial harm from physical injury to the child, including an injury that is at variance with the history or explanation given, excluding an accident or reasonable discipline by a parent, guardian, or managing or possessory conservator that does not expose the child to a substantial risk of harm.
  • Failure to make a reasonable effort to prevent an action by another person resulting in physical injury that results in substantial harm to the child.
  • Sexual conduct is harmful to a child’s mental, emotional, or physical welfare, including conduct that constitutes the offense of indecency with a child under Section 21.11, Penal Code, sexual assault under Section 22.011, Penal Code, or aggravated sexual assault under Section 22.021, Penal Code.
  • Failure to make a reasonable effort to prevent sexual conduct harmful to a child.
  • Compelling or encouraging the child to engage in sexual conduct as defined by Section 43.01, Penal Code.
  • Causing, permitting, encouraging, engaging in, or allowing the photographing, filming, or depicting of the child if the person knew or should have known that the resulting photograph, film, or depiction of the child is obscene as defined by Section 43.21, Penal Code, or pornographic.
  • Causing, permitting, encouraging, engaging in, or allowing a sexual performance by a child as defined by Section 43.25, Penal Code.
  • The current use by a person of a controlled substance as defined by Chapter 481, Health and Safety Code, in a manner or to the extent that the use results in physical, mental, or emotional injury to a child.
  • Causing, expressly permitting, or encouraging a child to use a controlled substance as defined by Chapter 481, Health and Safety Code.”

Additionally, a person can be accused of child abuse if he or she allows a child to be in a situation in which the child sustains a physical, sexual, mental, or emotional injury.

The Reasonable Discipline Defense

You may have been accused of child abuse when you were really disciplining your child. Every parent needs to discipline their children, and the Texas Penal Code recognizes this fact. That is why parents who have been accused of child abuse can raise the reasonable discipline defense. The use of non-deadly force against a child is justified when both of the following conditions have been met:

  • The accused is the child’s parent, step parent, grandparent, guardian, or someone with jurisdiction over the child, and
  • The accused reasonably believed that the force here she used was needed to protect the child’s well-being or to discipline the child

When a parent or guardian takes reasonable actions to discipline a child or protect his or her safety, doing so is not considered child abuse. However, someone can still accuse someone else of child abuse for taking similar actions. For example, if a stranger walks up to a child and spanks the child for misbehaving, The stranger would not be able to use the reasonable disciplined defense.

The Difference Between Child Abuse and Domestic Violence

Family violence, commonly called domestic violence, is a criminal act in Texas. Family Violence occurs when a member of a family or household acts violently toward another member of the family or household. The person engaging in the violent act must intend to cause physical or emotional harm with his or her actions. Domestic violence often includes the following:

  • Being pushed, slapped, bruised, kicked, strangled, or threatened with a weapon
  • Being verbally accused or attacked
  • Intentional damage of possessions
  • Being kept in isolation
  • Being followed, harassed, or spied upon

When Discipline Becomes Abuse

The legal statute defining child abuse in Texas is somewhat vague. Determining what is considered reasonable discipline versus child abuse is not always easy. There are times when discipline is considered child abuse. Discipline can turn into child abuse in the following circumstances:

  • A parent leaves bruises or marks on a child
  • A parent or guardian injures the child to the point where they need medical attention
  • The parent or guardian’s behavior is ongoing and becomes a pattern.

About Doug Wilder | Wilder Law Firm

Founding partner Doug Wilder began his legal career as a prosecutor, which he did from 1995-2000.  After prosecuting thousands of DWI’s and teaching police officers how to be more effective, he took all of his skill and knowledge and applied it to defending people, many of whom are wrongly accused. Doug Wilder is also a Field Sobriety Test Instructor and has taught the Student Field Sobriety Test Course around the country, and continues to be involved in teaching police officers as well.

* Please note: All articles on this blog are for informative purposes only, and are no substitute for legal advice or an attorney-client relationship. If you are being accused of a crime, please contact our law firm directly for professional representation.

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