What Happens If You're Charged with Child Neglect?
If you are facing child neglect charges, you should be aware of the timeline of court proceedings that will follow, whether you have been found guilty or not. The penalties for child neglect range from jail time to heavy fines, but perhaps the largest penalty is custody of your child. If Child Protective Services gets involved in your case, you will face a series of hearings to discuss your allegations and a potential relocation plan for your child. Keep reading to find out what will happen to you and your child following a case of child neglect.
What Are Grounds for a Child Neglect Charge?
Texas law defines neglect as the failure of a parent or guardian to provide necessary food, clothing, shelter, protection, medical care, and supervision for a child. Neglect must involve "observable and material impairment" or "substantial risk" to the child for the civil statute to apply.
Some signs of neglect your child might display could be:
- obvious malnourishment,
- lack of personal cleanliness,
- torn or dirty clothes,
- left unattended for long periods of time,
- need for medical or dental care, and
- frequent tardiness or absence from school.
Be aware that Texas requires anyone with knowledge of suspected child abuse or neglect to report it to the appropriate authorities. This mandatory reporting applies to everyone from teachers to health care professionals to attorneys to clergy members. In fact, failing to report suspected neglect is considered a Class A misdemeanor punishable by up to 1 year in state jail and a fine up to $4,000.
Penalties for Child Neglect
Punishment for abandoning or endangering a child is based on the seriousness of the charge. Three classifications of neglect charges and their respective sentences are as follows:
- Abandonment with Intent to Return: 6 months to 2 years in state jail and a fine up to $10,000.
- Abandonment with No Intent to Return: 2 to 10 years in prison and a fine up to $10,000.
- Abandonment Placing Child in Imminent Danger: 2 to 20 years in prison and a fine up to $10,000.
Legal Proceedings Following a Child Neglect Charge
Going to Court
If you have been charged with child neglect and Child Protective Services (CPS) gets involved, it is likely that your case will go to court. CPS cases usually result in one of two events after the agency receives a phone call about your alleged child neglect and investigates the allegations:
- If there is no evidence to substantiate those allegations, your case will be closed out.
- If there is sufficient evidence to substantiate the allegation, you or a member of your household will be identified as having committed an act of abuse or neglect.
When neglect has been found to occur, you will likely go to court. CPS may file a lawsuit on behalf of your child and ask the court to take temporary conservatorship over your child throughout the course of your case, where you will be required to draft permanency plans for your child’s relocation and attend hearings to check in with your progress.
The Adversary Hearing
The first step in the legal process associated with a CPS case is the Adversary Hearing, where CPS will attempt to convince a judge that it is necessary for your child to remain in their temporary care. You and your attorney will attend this hearing and put forth evidence that could persuade the judge to believe that your child should be returned home with you.
The court will require that you draft a permanency plan that outlines the end goal of your CPS case. It should basically describe what you want your child’s permanent living arrangement to be once the case is closed. For most people, this goal would be to have your child back in your home. Depending on the results of the case, though, the goal might also be to place your child in a relative’s or close friend’s home instead of in foster care.
Note that the judge will not be present during the permanency plan meetings and will only hear about it when you present it during your hearings. The permanency plan will be agreed upon by you, your lawyer, your child (if over the age of 7), and your child’s caretakers.
The status hearing is the judge’s way of checking the progress you’ve made in meeting the goals of your permanency plan. Note that during this time, you should address anything in the plan that you do not agree with. Be sure to speak with your lawyer about this beforehand so they can help you establish what points to bring up. It is important that you communicate any concerns to the judge, particularly because it might address their concern that you are not following through on a specific obligation in your plan, which could otherwise result in the judge terminating your parental rights.
After 6 months of your child being removed from your home, the court may hold a permanency hearing. The judge will review how your child is adjusting to life outside of your home and will review your progress in meeting the goals of your permanency plan. These hearings occur every 4 months on average, but a judge can decide to hold them closer together depending on your situation.
At the minimum, you will generally be required to attend 2 permanency meetings, the second of which will occur 10 months from the time that your child was removed from your home. If your child is not returned to you at this second hearing, a judge will likely set your case for a final trial.
If you seek to avoid going to trial, you can attempt to pursue mediation, which allows you and the other parties of your CPS case to negotiate a resolution. During mediation, all involved parties, including your attorney, will meet to speak with an independent mediator about your case to see what can be resolved prior to a trial.
Note that mediation can take place over the phone or even at a private attorney’s office, and a judge will not be present. The final agreement, if approved, will become a court order that goes into the record of your case.
Child neglect cases are very serious matters that could lead to drastic changes in your parental custody rights. If you have been accused of committing child neglect, you should seek legal assistance throughout the duration of your court proceedings. Your performance in the hearings and meetings outside of the courtroom will be indicative of the results of your case, so it is best to have experienced legal counsel like our team at The Clark Law Firm to represent you in trial and negotiations.
Contact us at The Clark Law Firm today for a free consultation on your child neglect case.