Texas Child Abandonment Laws

By Editorial Team

Updated November 28, 2018

Child image by Serenitie from Fotolia.com

Child abandonment is a form of child neglect, according to the Texas Family Code. If you believe that a child has been abandoned or otherwise neglected, you are required by law to report it to local law enforcement authorities or to the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services. Parents can also be prosecute for criminal child neglect, which is a felony.

Child Abandonment

Child abandonment is a form of child neglect, according to the Texas Family Code, Section 261.001(4). The definition of abandonment is leaving a child younger than the age of 18 in a situation where he would be exposed to a substantial risk of physical or mental harm, without arranging for necessary care for him and a demonstration of an intent not to return. The law applies to the parent, guardian, custodial parent or noncustodial parent, called managing and possessory conservators in Texas. Temporary caregivers can be accused of other forms of neglect, but not of abandonment. The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services is the state agency responsible for investigating cases of alleged child neglect, including abandonment.

Infant Safe Haven Law

In 1999, Texas enacted the first infant safe haven law in the United States. A Baby Moses case, as it is called in Texas, is an abandonment case that falls under a specific exception to the child neglect law. The purpose of the Baby Moses law is to encourage parents to take a newborn to an appropriate facility–called a designated infant care provider or DEIC–instead of abandoning her in a trash bin or other unsafe place.

If all of the criteria of the law are met, the parents are protected from civil or criminal penalties. The child must be unharmed and no older than 60 days old. The parent must deliver the child to a DEIC provider–hospital, emergency medical services provider or certain licensed child placement agencies--and not express an intent to return. Baby Moses provisions are found in the Texas Family Code, Chapters 262 and 263.

Criminal Abandonment

The criminal law regarding abandoning or endangering a child is found in Texas Penal Code Section 22.041. Criminal child abandonment means to leave a child younger than the age of 15 in any place without providing reasonable and necessary care for the child, in circumstances under which no reasonable, similarly situated adult would leave a child of that age and ability; intentionally abandon the child in any place under circumstances that expose the child to an unreasonable risk of harm; or engage in conduct that places the child in imminent danger of death, bodily injury or physical or mental impairment. If the accused is found guilty, the offense of abandonment is a felony.

There are two exceptions to the criminal statute. First, it is a defense to prosecution that the act or omission enables the child to practice for or participate in an organized athletic event. Second, if the person voluntarily delivered the child to a DEIC under the Baby Moses law, the case will not be prosecuted.