Child abuse and neglect laws make it illegal for parents, guardians, and custodians of children to physical harm their child, or to engage in conduct that would be destructive to the child’s upbringing. Under neglect laws, this also includes the failure to provide the child with proper physical, educational and medical necessities. In some jurisdictions, this can also include emotional neglect as well.

One way to think about abuse and neglect laws is that with abuse, the parent is actually taking action that harms the child, such as striking them, or subjecting them to harsh punishment. With neglect violations, the parent is failing to fulfill one or more of their duties to the child as a parent. 

Persons other than a biological parent can be found liable for abuse or neglect, so long as they have legal responsibility for the child. This can include legal guardians, custodians, and supervisors of the child. 

Are Child Abuse and Neglect Laws the Same in Each State?

Child abuse and neglect laws may be slightly different from state to state. What is different is the amount of government or agency intervention that each jurisdiction enforces. For example, one state may intervene in an abuse incident at an earlier stage, and may transfer custody of the child to a third party at an earlier stage. Or, one state may enforce stricter measures when it comes to protection the child.

However, most states and jurisdictions would agree that the following conduct would be considered child abuse/neglect:

  • Physically striking or harming the child
  • Subjecting the child to unusual or harsh treatment
  • Exposing the child to traumatizing conditions, such domestic violence, drug abuse, or inappropriate behavior
  • Assaulting the child in a sexual or inappropriate manner
  • Failing to provide for the child’s basic needs, such as food/clothing/shelter, and other needs like educational expenses

What Are the Penalties for Child Abuse and Neglect?

Penalties for child abuse and neglect can sometimes involve criminal charges, such as misdemeanor charges. These can result in consequences like criminal fines and/or jail time. In very serious cases, the court may find the parent guilty of felony charges, which will result in more serious criminal consequences.

In addition to these consequences, child abuse or neglect violations can make it more difficult for the parent to keep custody of the child, or to obtain visitation rights in the future. They may also find it more difficult to get certain jobs, especially those that involve children, such as day care jobs or educational jobs.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Assistance with Child Abuse and Neglect Laws?

Child abuse and neglect laws can sometimes be very complicated. They are generally enforced very strictly, since the safety and well-being of the child is often at stake. If you need assistance with any child abuse or neglect issues, you should speak with a family lawyer immediately. Your attorney can help represent you in court and can explain how the laws in your area might affect your case.