Investigating child neglect is a legal responsibility, and specific individuals have a legal duty to report such circumstances for investigation. Although they are defined differently by the law, child neglect is considered a form of child abuse, which people in certain occupations are mandated to report. Groups that must report such instances include:
- Aides of teachers
- School administrators
- Employees who work in licensed child daycare facilities or community facilities
- Classified employees who are trained in identifying child abuse
- Employees who work in group homes
- Religious leaders, including priests, rabbis, ministers, or other such practitioners
- Medical employees, including doctors, nurses, and psychologists
This list is not exhaustive, but it does show that mandatory reporters are those who work in occupations that oversee or work with children. Individuals who are responsible for mandatory reporting must do so to the local Child Protective Services.
For those who may be accused of child neglect, it is important to remember that these individuals are required to report the facts presented to them. The information provided is generally based on observations or specific statements by the child or another person who interacts with them.
The Role of Child Protective Services in Fontana, CA
Charges of child neglect can be difficult to navigate because they will almost certainly involve an investigation by the Department of Children and Family Services, in addition to Child Protective Services. These entities are responsible for investigating the reports provided by law enforcement or by mandatory reporters. Instinctually, you will want to engage in questioning and conversation with these entities to not only defend yourself but to protect your children as well.
It is imperative to remember that the answers you provide can have a significant impact on your future and on your case. The goal of these entities is to protect children, and they will likely do what they can to ensure that happens. If you are contacted by these groups, you have a right to representation, as you would in any criminal questioning. You have a right to have an attorney present during the questioning, and it is strongly encouraged that you use that right with an attorney who understands child neglect cases.
In many cases, the investigation by CPS/DCFS will not reveal all the details of the case, and they will then try to drive the conversation in a way that forces you to incriminate yourself. In addition, they are trained in child neglect laws and often know how the legal system will respond to specific information or procedural processes. Often, they will try to steer the conversation in that direction.
If you are contacted by such an agency, you will likely feel like you should cooperate because, if you do not, it appears like you may be guilty. However, you should engage as minimally as possible without the presence of your attorney, who can help guide you through the questioning. You should also ensure that you ask for clarification on the specific charges against you. If you are presented with generalizations, such as abuse or neglect, ask for the details so you can fully understand the accusations. In addition, ask that the conversation be recorded, and do not allow investigators into your home without a warrant.
Child Neglect Penalties
California uses the term “wobbler” to describe the potential penalties for child neglect. This is because the circumstances of the crime will determine if it is classified as a misdemeanor or as a felony, both of which will vary in the imposed penalties. Charging child neglect as a felony is rare, but it is not out of the question. This is often reserved for repeat offenders, but the circumstances of the case will determine the charges.
If the charge is classified as a misdemeanor, it will be a Class A charge, which will carry a punishment that includes:
- Jail time for up to twelve months
- Fines totaling up to $2,000
If the charge is a felony, punishments may include:
- Up to twelve months in jail
- Prison time of twelve months plus one day
- Fines of up to $2,000
The evidence in your case will determine how it is charged as well as any additional charges that may be added. These charges could include child endangerment or child abuse, among others.
The legal penalties are not all that could impact your life. As with any criminal record, you could also find difficulty in securing housing or finding employment, and your tarnished reputation could impact your relationships with friends and family. Working with an attorney who is experienced in child neglect cases can help you improve the chances of having your case dismissed or your charges reduced.
Defending Child Neglect Charges
There is no standard defense for child neglect. However, there are some key strategies that could help in building a defense against these serious charges. Proving that the offense happened is the responsibility of the state, and an arrest should not be mistaken for a conviction. Your attorney can review the charges against you and help evaluate the evidence. They can then use this to plan the right defense for you. Common defense strategies may include:
- False allegations. Often, this occurs because of other troubles in a relationship. A good example of this occurring is when an ex, or soon-to-be ex, is engulfed in a custody battle with you and is alleging neglect as a way to win the custody case.
- This usually occurs when reports are filed by mandatory reporters after a child has spoken with them. Depending on the age or the mental capacities of the child, they may confuse timelines or improperly describe a situation. This is not an intentional act but simply a misunderstanding of events.
- Legal excuse. In some cases, there may be a legally justified excuse for what may have occurred. Your specific actions may not have meant to cause harm. This can occur in cases where a parent is working several jobs to provide for their child’s basic needs. Charges that are filed against parents who are trying to provide for their child, but are unable to fully do so, are likely not going to be successful for the prosecutor.
- You are not legally responsible for the child. The state law requires child neglect charges to be filed against the “parent of a minor child.”
Any charges are based on the circumstances of the case, and your attorney can evaluate your circumstances to help guide you through what to expect and the potential penalties you could face.
California Child Neglect Defense Attorney
Any case of child abuse or neglect deserves to be investigated. Children deserve the protection of those entrusted with their care, and those who break that trust should be held accountable. However, all accusations are not equal, and the circumstances surrounding such charges may not always be what they appear.
If you or a loved one has been accused of child neglect, get the representation that you deserve. At My SoCal Lawyers, we know that charges aren’t always what they appear to be. The circumstances of your case deserve to be investigated, and you deserve to have a defense that meets your unique needs. Our team thoroughly reviews each case. We look at the evidence against you and the legal process you have gone through, from arrest to questioning, to ensure that your rights were protected. We also interview potential witnesses to get a more complete understanding of the situation.
Our team understands the delicate nature of such charges and, with compassion and empathy, we help navigate you through the legal process. If you are facing child neglect charges, contact our team today and get the help that you deserve.