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child endangerment

Child endangerment laws vary from state to state in their naming (child abuse, child neglect, neglectful supervision, etc.), definitions, and penalties (misdemeanor or felony, jail or probation). But parents, guardians, and other adult caregivers with responsibility for supervising children have an obligation to protect those children from unreasonably dangerous conditions.

Situations that may constitute child endangerment include (1) leaving a child unattended in a motor vehicle; (2) serving alcohol to an underage driver; (3) driving while intoxicated with a child in the motor vehicle; (4) leaving a young child unsupervised in an unsafe place or situation; (5) unreasonable punishment resulting in bodily injury (severe spanking, burning, extended isolation, etc.); (6) hiring a babysitter, nanny, or other adult supervisor with a known history of sexual or other abuse of children; (7) leaving firearms within the reach of children; (8) exposing a child to drug transactions or manufacturing; (9) exposing a child to pornography; (10) engaging in sexual activity in view of a child; and (11) placing or allowing a child to remain in a situation that may endanger the child’s life, physical health, mental health, emotional health, morals, or development.

Child endangerment laws are usually included in a state’s penal or criminal code (statutes)—which provide for the related criminal charges—and in a state’s family code (statutes) that address the civil (non-criminal) implications of child endangerment—often in the context of divorce and child custody matters.

Except in limited circumstances, federal laws generally do not apply to child endangerment matters that take place within a single state. Such criminal matters that take place within a single state are generally handled by state or local authorities and prosecuted under state laws. But if the endangerment of a child involves conduct or materials in multiple states, or occurs on federal lands (military bases, American Indian territories) the offense may be prosecuted under federal law.

In Texas, child endangerment is addressed under the Texas Penal Code and the Texas Family Code. The Penal Code defines child endangerment as an act by anyone who has custody, care, or control of a child under 15 years old and knowingly engages in conduct that places the child in imminent danger of death, bodily injury, or physical or mental impairment. This can include situations such as leaving a child in a vehicle, driving intoxicated with a child, exposing a child to drugs, and other acts mentioned in the query. The offense can range from a state jail felony to a second-degree felony, depending on the circumstances and whether the conduct was intentional, knowing, reckless, or with criminal negligence. Additionally, the Texas Family Code considers child endangerment in the context of child custody and welfare, where such conduct can affect parental rights and responsibilities. Federal laws may apply if the endangerment involves crossing state lines, federal land, or other federal jurisdictions.

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