Texas law provides a definition of child abuse. In addition, the law provides criminal sanctions for assaults, sexual assaults, and other acts that may be committed against children. The definition of child abuse, which is part of the Texas Family Code, is the basis for civil actions to protect a child from an abuser (such as removal of a child from the home). The Penal Code provides the basis for the criminal prosecution of a person who assaults or otherwise commits a crime against a child.
According to Chapter 261 of the Family Code (recodified in 1995), child abuse is an act or omission that endangers or impairs a child's physical, mental or emotional health and development. Child abuse may take the form of physical or emotional injury, sexual abuse, sexual exploitation, physical neglect, medical neglect, or inadequate supervision.
The law specifically excludes "reasonable" discipline by the child's parent, guardian, or conservator; corporal punishment is not in itself abusive under the law. An act or omission is abusive only if "observable and material impairment" occurs as a result, or if it causes "substantial harm," or exposes the child to risk of substantial harm.
Neglect, like physical and emotional abuse, hinges on substantial harm or observable and material impairment. The law excludes from its definition of neglect any failure to provide for the child that is due to lack of financial resources. A child living in poverty is not a victim of neglect under the Texas Family Code except in cases where relief has been offered and refused by the child's parent, guardian, or conservator.
Accidental injury or harm is also excluded from the definition of abuse. However, a person commits abuse if s/he places a child, or allows a child to be placed, in a situation where the child is exposed to "substantial risk" of injury or harm. The law also clearly states that a person commits abuse if s/he fails to make a reasonable effort to prevent another person from abusing a child. This provision applies to all forms of abuse, including physical and emotional abuse, sexual abuse, and neglect.