Child abuse and neglect refers to any form of injury, sexual exploitation, sexual abuse, maltreatment, or negligent treatment of a child by any person under conditions that indicate that the child’s welfare, health, and safety have been harmed.
Elements of Child Abuse and Neglect
In many states, for a crime to be categorized as child abuse and neglect, the harm needs to have been inflicted intentionally. This includes intentional and careless acts like leaving a child alone with a known abuser or sexual offender. Additionally, the harm inflicted upon the child should not necessarily be actual but may include risks or threats of imminent harm.
Mandatory Reporting Laws
Every state consists of mandatory reporting laws that require people to report suspected or apparent child abuse to the authorities. These reports are aimed at promoting early intervention of child abuse and neglect.
In some states, anyone can report a case of suspected child abuse. In other states, mandatory reporting is required by professionals such as nurses, doctors, school officials, social workers, law enforcement personnel, and day care workers. In most of these jurisdictions, failing to report a case of child abuse is deemed to be a misdemeanor that is punishable by fines, imprisonment, or both.
Warning Signs of Child Abuse and Neglect
Some of the warning signs of child abuse include:
•Physical abuse: unexplained bruises, burns, bites, or other injuries
•Emotional abuse: delayed emotional development, extreme behavior, and belittling by a caregiver or parent
•Sexual abuse: reports of bedwetting, nightmares, difficulty sitting or walking, changes in appetite, and the refusal to change in front of others or to be involved in gym activities
•Neglect: stays home alone, bad body odor, lack of dental or medical care, frequent school absenteeism
Penalties for Child Abuse and Neglect
In many states, child abuse is either categorized as a felony or as a misdemeanor depending on the prevailing circumstances. The most serious cases of child abuse can carry lifetime sentences while the least serious are classified as gross misdemeanors.
Sentencing can include probation or imprisonment of up to 5 years. Other consequences and penalties include:
•Termination of parental rights
•Physical loss and enjoyment of one’s child
•Supervised access to one’s child
•Continual engagement with a child protective services agency
Defenses for Child Abuse and Neglect
False Accusations of Child Abuse
In dysfunctional families or in cases involving parents who are embroiled in a child custody battle, it is common for the false accusations defense to be raised. Although it is often difficult to prove, the most effective way of defending a false child abuse charge is to present proof of the lie or wrongful conduct of the accuser.
The Injury is an Accident
Most child abuse laws only punish accidents if they are caused by carelessness or recklessness. When a child is injured as a result of an accident, the one accused of abuse may use this defense.
The Parent’s Right to Discipline
Parents have the right to discipline their children in any way they deem fit provided the discipline is reasonable and does not cause any body injuries. The question of how parents should discipline their children is often a subject raised in many child abuse cases. In certain cases, a parent can argue that they have parental privilege and claim they were entitled to discipline their child. However, where a child’s injuries are serious than minor bruising, parental privilege may not apply.
How a Lawyer Can Help In a Child Abuse and Neglect Case?
A lawyer’s first role in a child abuse and neglect case will be to gather evidence and bring up case law that absolves you from wrongdoing. Your lawyer will present the applicable defenses to ensure that the child abuse and neglect charges are dropped. However, if you are guilty, your lawyer will help you bargain for a plea in exchange for a reduced sentence.