Child abuse and neglect can leave scars that last a lifetime. Millions of cases of child neglect and abuse are reported every year in America, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. You may become involved in this issue if you know a child whom you suspect is a victim of abuse or neglect.
It might be the child of a neighbor, a family friend or someone you know from work, or it could be your own child's friend or classmate. Some professionals have a "duty to report" such offenses. Or, conversely, perhaps you have been accused of child abuse or neglect.
Child Abuse Definitions May Vary
Behavior is considered abusive if a parent or caregiver harms a child physically or emotionally, allows others to harm the child, or puts the child in harm's way. Although laws and definitions differ, three types of conduct are regarded as child abuse in every state: physical abuse, sexual abuse and emotional abuse. In some states, drug or alcohol abuse by a parent is considered a form of child abuse. Because gray areas exist and are open to interpretation by different states and different courts, it's sometimes unclear where to draw the line between allowable parental discipline and illegal abuse.
Child Neglect Is Based on a Failure to Act
Child neglect occurs when a parent or caregiver fails to provide for a child's basic needs: food, shelter, supervision, education and emotional support. In most states, allowing an 8-year-old to drink alcohol or smoke marijuana would be considered a form of child neglect. Some states are more lenient when parents refuse to provide certain kinds of medical care to their children on religious grounds. In some states, child abuse and neglect are viewed as essentially the same. It is a crime to harm or threaten to harm a child, either by taking action or failing to take action.
The Legal Consequences Can Be Severe
Child abuse and neglect can have serious legal consequences. Custody of an abused or neglected child may be switched to the other parent or a relative, or the child may be removed from an abusive home and placed in state custody. In some cases, a court may terminate all parental rights, including visitation. A person convicted of child abuse or neglect might be ordered to take parenting classes or could be sentenced to prison, or both.
False Accusations Are a Serious Matter
False allegations of child abuse or neglect are not uncommon. In some cases, a child expands a "fib' into an elaborate lie with the encouragement of misguided adults. In other cases, an angry parent may seek to use a false accusation to gain advantage in a child custody dispute. If you are falsely accused of child abuse or neglect, you may be in for a rough ride, especially if you lack competent legal counsel. Making a false accusation of child abuse or neglect is itself a crime in some states, and giving false testimony on the witness stand is a crime in every state.
A Family Law Lawyer Can Help
The law surrounding accusations of child abuse and neglect is complicated. Plus, the facts of each case are unique. This article provides a brief, general introduction to the topic. For more detailed, specific information, please contact a family law lawyer.