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Questions about Child Neglect Law

Child neglect is a serious issue that can have implications for both minors and their parents or guardians. It's important to understand what constitutes child neglect and how intentional or even unintentional actions may be considered as negligent when caring for a child.

Below are some top questions about child neglect.

What is child neglect?

According to the Federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA), the definition of child neglect is, “Any recent act or failure to act on the part of a parent or caretaker, which results in death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse, or exploitation, or an act or failure to act which presents an imminent risk of serious harm." The CAPTA mandates that the statutory definition of child abuse and neglect is altered as relevant to each state. Hence the definition and laws may vary from state to state. Child neglect broadly includes the following areas; failure to protect, abandonment and medical neglect.

Is it considered child neglect if a minor is left on his/her own? For example, if a 7-year-old in Massachusetts is left for a couple of hours or if a 17-year-old in California is left for over two days?

In most cases it may not be considered child neglect to leave a child alone for a few hours or a responsible teenager alone for a day or two as long as the minor’s basic needs such as food, shelter, clothing and safety are taken care of. Leaving a child/minor without such amenities may constitute child neglect. Child protection services (CPS) may get involved if the children somehow hurt themselves while left alone or if the matter is brought to CPS’ attention through a complaint. Per Massachusetts state law, there is no defined age at which a child can be left at home unattended. Laws can change from state to state.

Is an investigation on child neglect considered illegal if it continues after the party has relocated to another state?

Child protection agencies have broad authority. They are required to investigate every case of child neglect and/or abuse. This would be the case even if the parties concerned reside in have moved to another state. What is important is the state in which the child lives, where the investigation is being conducted, or where the act of suspected abuse happened. Since CPS must investigate every claim of child neglect, they must investigate regardless of whether the claim is genuine or false, so these investigations are not considered illegal. In most cases the court also supports the child protection agencies in their enquiries and reports. In case you have any proof that a person deliberately made a false complaint against you then you may possibly be able to sue the party for defamation and invasion of privacy. You can hire an attorney to protect your rights but cooperating with the investigation and authorities is a sensible approach.

Would it be considered child neglect if a person is living without power for over a month while receiving child support?

This may be considered as child neglect because child support should help provide a child’s basic needs, such as heat, a house/shelter, and food. Without electricity, basic necessities such as food and heating would be affected. Child support is a provision to meet the basic needs and maintain the well being of the child and is applicable to everything the child may need.

Is it considered child neglect or child endangerment if a child is around a felon? Can this lead to a change in custody?

The presence of a felon does not usually constitute child endangerment or neglect. It depends on the current tendencies of the felon. For example, whether he/she consumes controlled substances, has unresolved/untreated psychological issues (e.g., depression, bi-polar disorder), or has engaged in domestic violence. A child exposed to these behaviors may be at risk for physical or psychological harm, and this risk of harm is one thing that can support a possible change in child custody. For example, if a child exhibits signs of stress from being in contact with this person, that might be a reason to request a change in custody. If constant contact continues then a modification of child custody may be necessary to support the child’s best interests.

Is leaving children in a car unsupervised regarded as child neglect? Is a lawyer required to represent you at court even if you have no past criminal record?

In most cases this would be treated as abandonment or exposing the child to a potentially dangerous situation. It may lead to a charge of child neglect. In such scenarios a lawyer may not be mandatory since a person can represent himself/herself if they wish to. Usually the courts are lenient towards first-time offenders. However, a criminal lawyer may be useful to present a valid defense and try to minimize penalties in the court proceedings.

It can be challenging to care for a child. Things that you may do out unintentionally or out of ignorance may be regarded as child neglect. Understanding the nuances may prevent unnecessary intervention or can help you report cases to the authorities. No matter what, the goal is to maintain the best possible environment for the child.
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Recent Child Neglect Questions

  • My daughter is a single mom of two children, works 10 hours

    My daughter is a single mom of two children, works 10 hours a day to make sure her kids have what they need, (house, food clothes, etc). Her two children are in either my (grandmother) care or in the care of a reliable sitter. She is now being accused of child neglect and is being investigated by the Laramier County Colorado Child Welfare Department because of false statements sent to them by ??????? She was threatened by the case worker that if she did not take off from her job and loose wages to meet with her, the case worker would have her in court.
    What legal grounds does she have for these false reports and against Child Welfare?
  • Hi. I have a Child Visitation hearing coming up. A couple of

    Hi. I have a Child Visitation hearing coming up. A couple of weeks ago, I went for a Restraining Order trial and was granted a permanent Restraining Order for one year with a CLETS finding. Our current visitation schedule is 2-2-5; and the Judge stated we would discuss visitation at the upcoming hearing. We also have a Minor's Counsel appointed.
    I am wondering how I should prepare for this hearing and if I should forward information related to the Child, such as child neglect and alienation by the Father, therapists reports etc to the Minor's Counsel before the hearing?
  • Dear Sir or Madam, I have full custody, and the child is

    Dear Sir or Madam,

    I have full custody, and the child is missing for 18months. Please help.

    My question has to do with jurisdiction and a pending summons.

    The mother is trying to get a new judge and a new ruling in a 'mommy state'. The mother took the child out of Santa Barbara County which was against the orders of the summons. The mother claimed later that she had no idea a case was even filed but that was proven to be a lie.

    The current judge doesn't believe a word from her.

    My name is ***** ***** the birth certificate, but facts indicate I am surely the father.

    I've been granted full custody in Santa Barbara where the child was born and raised for the first year of his life.

    The mother made a motion in April '13 in the SB CA court to have the case thrown out (claiming no service of summons), and also claiming that she was never informed of the first hearing where I was granted full custody (I mailed notice and called her relatives multiple times). The mother also asked for jurisdiction to be changed to Missouri at that time. The judge denied her motion, saying the mother has 'no equity in this case'.

    I did spend five months seeing him almost every day while in Santa Barbara.. She's been kicked out of multiple homeless shelters for drinking, drugs, child neglect, promiscuity, .. and even though the court ordered (by my request) the Santa Barbara child abduction unit detective to locate and pick up the child, the detective has decided to not obey the courts order and child remains missing.

    My question is: Should I let her serve me summons for the Missouri case that she's recently filed?

    I now live in California, in part to secure jurisdiction here.

    I am confident that Missouri is not jurisdiction. But I understand Missouri is a horrible state for fathers rights, plus it's nowhere near as set up for self representation, plus I am reluctant to deal with the stress of fending off another jurisdiction transfer attempt. The odds of her succeeding are quite slim, but if she does it's likely to be a horrible mess.

    I kindly thank you for reading so much here, please let me know if you have any questions that will help your answer. Again, what I'm wondering is if I should allow myself to be served summons for the new Missouri case. Thanks in advance for your help.

    Regards,
    Joe
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