Both of the managing partners of our firm have children, so we understand. People love their children. In fact, most of the parents that admit abusing their child will tell you that they love their children. However, some parents either abuse the child when they get angry or upset, when they abuse alcohol or drugs, if they have a psychological illness, or for no reason at all. Texas child abuse laws criminalize physical, emotional, or sexual abuse of minors and also require certain third parties with knowledge of the abuse to report it to the proper authorities. In 2016, there were 58,644 children who were confirmed victims of child abuse in Texas. That’s 58,644 too many. What is one of the scariest things for us is that we understand that many children are unable to speak for themselves, even if their safety or even their lives, are in danger.
Child abuse is broadly defined as any type of cruelty to a child, including mental/psychological abuse, physical harm, neglect, and/or sexual abuse or exploitation. Identifying whether or not the other parent is abusing your children will be your first step in the effort to protect them, treat them, and prevent further abuse or child neglect. Let’s first discuss the symptoms and impact of child abuse in a Texas custody suit.
Symptoms & Impact of Child Abuse
If you suspect that your child is being abused by someone (usually a family member), then you are likely already familiar with some of the signs.
Here are some signs/symptoms that your child is suffering from abuse as well as the impact that it has:
- Unexplained and unusual burns, cuts, bruises or welts on the child;
- Anti-social behavior and behavioral problems in school;
- Sudden issues with bed wetting;
- The child has an unreasonable fear of adults;
- The child displays self-destructive behavior or threatens to or actually does harm to his or herself;
- Depression and lack of concentration;
- The child continually wears dirty or unsuitable clothing for the weather or their age;
- Inappropriate interest in or knowledge of sexual acts for the child’s age and/or level of maturity;
- 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;
- 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;
- Failure to make a reasonable effort to prevent sexual conduct harmful to a child;
- 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;
- Causing or permitting the child to be in a situation in which 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 and 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 that results in physical injury that results in substantial harm to the child;
- Failing to seek, obtain, or follow through with medical care for a child, with the failure resulting in or presenting a substantial risk of death, disfigurement, or bodily injury or with the failure resulting in an observable and material impairment to the growth, development, or functioning of the child;
- The failure to provide a child with food, clothing, or shelter necessary to sustain the life or health of the child, excluding failure caused primarily by financial inability unless relief services had been offered and refused;
- Placing a child in or failing to remove the child from a situation in which the child would be exposed to a substantial risk of sexual conduct harmful to the child;
- The child is socially withdrawn and does not like to communicate with adults; and/or
- Injuries to the child’s body that should be protected such as the genitals, inner thighs, buttocks, etc.
If you have encountered these symptoms and you suspect that someone is guilty of abusing your child, you will have a duty to report it if you are made aware of it.
The Duty to Report Child Abuse in Texas
We can all agree that child abuse is a terrible thing that happens all over the world every day. One of the first steps of stopping and preventing it is to report it to the proper authorities. In Texas, there is an obligation to immediately report suspected abuse, especially if you are a parent of the child or a teacher, for example.
Here is a list of people expected to, and have a legal obligation to, immediately report abuse:
- A parent, guardian, managing or possessory conservator, or foster parent of the child;
- A member of the child’s family or household as defined by Chapter 71;
- A person with whom the child’s parent cohabit;
- School personnel or a volunteer at the child’s school; and/or
- Personnel or a volunteer at a public or private child-care facility that provides services for the child or at a public or private residential institution or facility where the child resides.
Texas law requires that any person suspecting that a child has been abused or neglected must immediately make a report. If you believe that it is an emergency, you need to contact 911 to report the suspected or proven abuse. You should also contact the DFPS Texas Abuse Hotline at 1-800-252-5400. You can also make a report online.
Professionals such as doctors, teachers, therapists, day-care employees, and others must make a report no later than the 48th hour after first suspecting a child has been abused or neglected or is a victim of an offense under Section 21.11, of the Texas Penal Code. According to the Texas Family Code, Section 261.101, a professional cannot even rely on another employee or staff member for example, to make the report.
If you suspect that your child is being abused, you should report it immediately. This is not always easy because sometimes although people know that the other parent is not a great parent, they don’t initially know that it has risen to a level of abuse or neglect. Since delaying reporting the abuse could have negative impacts on your child, you should not waste any time reporting suspected abuse or neglect.
Note: You won’t be expected to prove the abuse. Child Protective Services (CPS) will conduct their own investigation into the allegations. However, if you have any proof, you should be sure to turn it over to CPS.
Punishment for Child Abuse
A child who has been abused or neglected may experience a range of problems, such as relationship difficulties, lack of trust of adults, emotional outbursts (or retreat), low performance at school, depression, anxiety, and anger. Children are the future and children are helpless. This is why Texas punishes people that abuse children. A person may be held both criminally liable and serve jail time or civilly liable and have to pay damages for abuse to the child or child neglect.
Punishment for failure to report abuse when you have an obligation:
- Class B misdemeanor for physical injury resulting in substantial harm to the child; mental or emotional injury to the child; failure to prevent injury to the child; harmful sexual conduct or pornography with a child; failure to prevent use of controlled substance by child.
- Class A misdemeanor for filing a false report
Punishment for committing the abuse to the child:
- Felony and/or misdemeanor criminal incarceration and/or fine; and/or
- Loss of custody, visitation rights, or access to the child.
Treating the Abuser & the Child
Oftentimes the child will need substantial treatment for the abuse. This may be in the form of physical therapy or in the child may be required to see a child therapist. Treatment for abuse won’t be easy for a child though, as it will have a huge impact on the child mentally.
The abuser should get help as soon as possible. The parent should enroll in anger management classes as well as seek professional help from a licensed therapist. If you are a parent that is seeking custody of your children due to this abuse, you should be sure to hire an attorney that has experience handling cases with abuse allegations.