Child Neglect

According to the American Society for the Positive Care of Children (ASPCC) on child maltreatment statistics, 74.9% of children are victims of child neglect in the country. Thus, States have enacted strict laws to punish incidents of child neglect. In California, child neglect falls under Penal Code 270. A violation of this law may lead to hefty criminal fines as well as prison/ jail term, among other punishments.

If you are facing charges of child neglect, we invite you to contact us at The Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney. We have experience in handling California criminal matters, including representing people who are facing child abuse and child neglect charges. 

What is Child Neglect?

California Penal Code 270 makes it a criminal offense for “a parent of a minor child [who] willfully omits, without lawful excuse, to furnish necessary clothing, food, shelter, or medical attendance, or other remedial care for his or her child.”

To further break down this law, a parent is defined broadly as:

  • The biological parent of the child
  • A person who never married or divorced the custodial parent but had access to the child
  • The adoptive parents of the child
  • Anyone with legal guardianship to the child
  • Someone who was married to, or cohabitate with, a custodial parent during the birth of the child.

The term “willfully omits” means a parent/caregiver purposefully or deliberately does not meet the basic needs of the child. On the other hand, remedial care is the care provided to the child to promote the organic growth of self, which can be mental, emotional, or physical. Examples of remedial care are comforting the child after an injury or dressing their wounds and giving prayers in accordance with the practice from a recognized church.

In short, child neglect involves acts that would deny the physical, mental, and emotional well-being of a child due to the willful omission of basic needs from parents or guardians.

Forms of Child Neglect

Child neglect is characterized in four ways; physical neglect, emotional neglect, medical neglect, and educational neglect, as we will discuss further below.

  1. Physical Neglect

Physical neglect is the most common and explicit sign of child neglect. It is the negligent treatment of children, which includes both acts and/or omission of care pertaining to the child's physical wellness. This includes food and regular meals, clean/hygienic, and a safe place to live, weather-appropriate clothing such as winter gloves and jackets and consistent care and supervision from harm (a good example of this would be a parent abandoning the child without proper supervision for an extended period).

  1. Emotional Neglect

Emotional neglect is the failure to provide emotional support for the child. This can vary in degree and maybe weighed based on the consistency of acts such as isolating the child from interacting with other children or adults, threatening serious punishments, humiliating the child, and failing to provide psychological care & affection to the child.

More explicit evidence of emotional neglect includes exposing the child to spousal, drug, and alcohol abuse.

  1. Medical Neglect

Medical neglect is the failure to provide the necessary medical intervention for your child when needed. This could be one time instances for treatment that can lead to worsening of the disease or ignoring a continued medical need of the child that affects their welfare (an example of this is when a child requires glasses).

However, California has a religious exception to this rule. The law allows a caregiver to withhold medical care and have a priest pray for the recovery of the sick child. This should be done following the tenets and practices of a recognized church or religious denomination by a duly accredited practitioner.

  1. Educational Neglect

Education neglect occurs when a parent does not enroll a child (school-age children) in school or fails to provide the necessary assistance and interventions for children who require special education. An example of this would be a child with special needs, such as visual impairment (blindness). This can also include failure to ensure and encourage school attendance for the child.

Signs That Differentiates Child Neglect From Other Behavioral and Emotional Issues

Different signs distinguish child neglect from some of the routine and natural behavioral or emotional challenges faced by parents with regards to the care of their children. Under the mandatory reporting requirements, caregivers, parents, guardians, doctors, among others, are required to report any signs of child neglect and abuse to authorities. Otherwise, you can face charges of child neglect if you fail to report these signs. This is because the authorities may conclude that you are neglecting the child, especially if you are a parent or guardian.

The following are the different signs that differentiate child neglect from other issues:

  • Lack of consistent school attendance. The child often misses school consistently without any legitimate excuse. This absence could lead to significant slowed mental abilities in the child, for example, a child's inability to read or write without any medical reason like other children of their age
  • The child lacks medical care and is constantly sick or lack basic needs such as glasses and immunization. Delayed medical care could also be a sign of neglect
  • The child routinely begs and steals food
  • Lack of weather-appropriate clothing such as gloves and jackets or continuously wears ill-fitting clothes
  • Hygiene is consistently bad; the child is always dirty or has severe body odor. The child also often repeats the same clothes without change
  • Abuse of alcohol and other drugs
  • Significant behavioral changes, such as violence or withdrawal
  • The consistent decline of the child’s academic performance
  • The child is underweight or malnourished
  • Constantly reports that no one is home to provide the necessary care for the child; they are constantly being left alone or without supervision
  • Inorganic developmental delays from a child who has no medical conditions to warrant them

Here are some of the signs used to identify that the parent is neglectful to the child:

  • He or she abuses alcohol and drugs
  • They seem apathetic and indifferent to the child
  • Bizarre behavior could indicate a mental illness such as depression or Bipolar disorder
  • They often employ harsh or request cruel punishments for simple mistakes

Child neglect also has its own causes or factors that may contribute to its existence. As a defendant, you can use these factors in your defense. They are:

  • Families with low incomes are more likely to experience cases of child neglect.
  • Substance abuse. Unfortunately, alcohol or drug addiction can become the focus of one's life, at the expense of caring for and giving attention to a child.
  • Poor social skills and unloving relationships; a parent who has tortured background may be unable to invest in their children emotionally and foster other healthy relationships.
  • Depression. Parents with depression are likely to be indifferent and impassive towards their children. They are also less likely to supervise or ensure the physical and emotional wellness of the child.
  • A large family. Families with more than four children are more likely to be charged with child neglect than families with three or fewer children. This is because it is more hectic and more emotionally and physically tasking for parents to maintain a healthy and more balanced environment for their children.
  • Lack of easily accessible support systems for single-parent households; single parents may lack the means to supervise or keep their children safe efficiently. Single parent households may face financial strains that may lead to instances of child neglect.
  • Misunderstanding child development and lack of empathy for the developmental contributions that a parent is required to make for the well-being of the children. This can also manifest in the lack of understanding when it comes to the proper care for children with special needs.

There are several issues that take place in a child neglect case, from reporting to court hearings.

The Judicial Procedure for Child Neglect

When a child neglect report has been made, the police, as well as the Child Protective Service (CPS), have to investigate the allegations. These cases are sometimes reported by referral tips from mandated reporters such as doctors and teachers. Mandated reporters are required by law to report any instances of child neglect or abuse that they witness. A social worker of the CPS usually focus on these areas:

  • Whether neglect is occurring
  • Why neglect is occurring
  • What the situation is like for the child
  • Whether improvement in the family are likely to be sustained
  • What needs to be done to ensure the long-term safety of the child

When investigating the allegation, it could sometimes mean that the children are held for 72 hours if the Child Protective Service worker believes that the children are at risk in their home. During these 72 hours, children are placed either in a relative's homes or in licensed foster homes. When CPS takes the children into protective custody, they are required to notify the parents immediately.

During this time, you should consult an experienced criminal defense attorney to notify them of the on-going investigations. This is because investigators may ask you questions that may be self-incriminating, which can be used as evidence of neglect.

If the children are not in immediate danger during the investigation of the crime, they are allowed to remain in the home, pending the court arraignment.

Within those 72 hours, the CPS is required to file a petition (statement of allegations with the names of both the children and the parents involved) in the Juvenile designated courts. The Juvenile designated courts are dependency courts whose sole purpose is to hear and decide on cases that involve the welfare and safety of children in their specific counties. The court is required to have a hearing or detention arraignment to arraign the parent on the petition filed against them. Here, the parents can enter an admission or a denial to the allegations read to them by the court.

This is usually done in the presence of the District Attorney (DA) or representatives of the CPS agency, the judge, the parent, and their lawyers. It is at this hearing that your attorney can argue that the child is released back to the parent's custody. If the release is granted, the social worker can make unannounced visits to the home of the parent to ensure the child's safety. The courts should give CPS a day in court if there are allegations levied against the parents. In some instances, if there is nothing evidentiary, the court may dismiss the case at this stage.

If it is not dismissed, “No Time Waiver Trial” follows. This trial will occur depending on whether the child is detained or not. If he/ she is detained, the trial/ hearing happens within fifteen (15) days. If they are within their parents’ custody, the hearing occurs within 30 days.

The attorney of the parent will set a “Pre-Trial Resolution Conference (PRC).” Here, mediation may be necessary to get both sides to settle the matter without the need for a trial. This mediation is conducted by a third party that should be neutral.

If a settlement is not agreed on, the case proceeds to a jurisdiction hearing. This hearing is held to determine whether the CPS petition allegations of neglect or abuse concerning the child are valid and have substantiated evidence to ascertain state intervention. After the jurisdiction hearing, the case moves to the disposition hearing, which can sometimes be done on the same day.

The Disposition Hearing is the most critical hearing of all of the types of hearings that occur during dependency proceedings. During this hearing, the court decides whether to assert jurisdiction; thus, to make a child a dependent of the state, what sort of reunification and visitation orders to make, the next home of the child, any necessary services, among others. At this hearing, your lawyer may present some of the defenses to the allegations presented, as we will discuss further below.

Common Child Neglect Defenses at the Disposition Hearing

Some of the possible n defenses for child neglect are based on the following issues:

  1. Financial Abilities

Some of the cases of Child neglect are usually based on the fact that some parents may not have the money to provide the children with the necessary basic needs that are required by the state. Some of these needs are regular meals, weather-appropriate clothing, and in some cases, a safe place to live. The lawyer must, therefore, prove that the parents do not have the financial capabilities. In this case, the state or government may offer assistance, such as government benefits and housing.

  1. False Accusations

Sometimes, the burden of proof lies with you and your legal team. Here, you must prove that the allegations levied are false and provide substantial evidence of the fact. This can be letters and eye witness testimonies from friends and teachers or medical and financial records that prove the appropriate activities and measures taken to ensure the welfare of your child is ensured at all times.

  1. Documentation and Facts

Prepare a thorough document showcasing your knowledge of the child for your lawyer to use as evidence of your parenting skills. If you are accused of drug use, willingly provide a sobriety sample to the courts to assert your defense against the allegations.

Note that, if a child neglect allegations are levied against an absentee parent, your lawyer may have to prove your lack of knowledge of the child's existence.

  1. Rights to Punishment

When allegations against the parent are based on punishment, the parent may have to prove that the punishment given was warranted based on the crime or the mistake the child committed and was not done in excess or maliciously. They may have to give detailed explanations if the child has any visible injuries and scars.

  1. Proof of Reform

In some cases, the issue of neglect may be due to involvement with an abusive significant other. In such cases, the lawyer would have to prove that their clients have terminated any contact the child has with the abusive partner and argue the guaranteed safety of the child after the fact. This can also be used to show a significant lifestyle change made by the parent, such as therapy, drug rehabilitation, anger management classes, etc.

  1. Religious Reasons

In California, religious reasons are often upheld by the court as long as they fall under the tenets and practices of a recognized church or religious denomination. This may be used in cases of medical neglect.

Other defenses may be used based on the specific nature of the case and the allegations levied by CPS.

After disposition hearing, the Reunification/Service Plan or Case Plan will tell the parent what they will need to do to resolve the problems that brought the case before the Juvenile Court. The parent may be required to undergo counseling, alcohol/drug testing & rehab, visitation requirements, etc. The CPS suggests the case plan, but the court’s disposition orders are often the Reunification Case Plan. If the parent is found guilty after the defense, there are penalties that may be issued, as we will discuss in the next section.

Possible Penalties for Child Neglect in California

Child neglect cases are known as “wobbler.” Thus, they can be punished as misdemeanors or felonies. Misdemeanor and felony penalties depend on the extent of the harm experienced by the child. The following are the possible punishments of child neglect:

  • The offender will be required to pay a fine that does not exceed 2,000 dollars, as stated in California penal code 270.
  • Incarceration. A misdemeanor conviction may bring a few days or months in jail and a maximum jail sentence of one year. On the other hand, a felony conviction carries a minimum prison sentence of ten years. Felony child neglect is a rare case and may only be given to parents who have a previous history of child neglect.
  • A person can get a probation sentence instead of jail or prison sentence.  This sentence usually lasts a minimum of six months and a maximum of one year. In some cases, the probation term can extend to over a year. However, a violation of the probation terms is an offense, which would lead to the original penalties for the offense of child neglect, including additional probation.
  • Other Penalties. When child neglect involves a parent, guardian, or someone with legal custody of a child, a court can also limit parental rights. A court can issue a protective order against the parent or place them under the care of a foster parent or relatives.

It is important to note that the main purpose of a neglect proceeding in Family Court is not to punish but to mandate the appropriate services and assistance necessary to families to correct whatever issue they face that may have led to the neglect petition in the first place. Six-month review hearings are conducted. The role of the caseworker assigned to the case is to write a review of the services offered to the parents, the progress, and the willingness of the parents to cooperate and rectify the issue that brought them to the Juvenile dependency court in the first place.

If found innocent, child neglect records can be expunged. In California, if the alleged victim was under 18, information on unsubstantiated allegations may be erased after ten years, and no other cases have been brought against the same accused individual during that period.

Find a Los Angeles Criminal Defense Lawyer Near Me

Criminal charges involving children carry substantial weight in criminal matters. If you are facing charges of child neglect, you may not only face criminal penalties but also undergo the emotional stigma that comes when you are separated from your child. These are just some of the possible consequences of a child neglect conviction, but we at The Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney are ready to help you. We offer criminal defense services for people who are facing criminal charges in the Los Angeles area. Please get in touch with us today at 310-564-2605 so that we can begin looking into your case.

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