Educational neglect refers to a parent failing to provide for their child’s basic needs with regards to schooling and education. It is a legal term often used in a family law context. Most often, this refers to younger children who are still being claimed as dependents of their parents, but it also includes any adult who has a legal responsibility to the child. This would include a stepparent, legal guardian, or custodian.
It is important to note that educational neglect is often, but not always, classified under child abuse laws, as well as neglect laws. The difference between abuse and neglect is that abuse is typically intentionally causing harm to the child, whereas neglect can happen accidentally. In order for an adult to be found liable for educational neglect, there must be proof that the parent has failed to provide an education for the child that is consistent with their state’s requirements.
Each state has differing laws and requirements regarding educational requirements and what constitutes educational neglect. Educational neglect laws may vary depending on the family, as well as the education laws in each particular region. There are twenty four states that include educational neglect in the definition of child abuse.
Every state has their own statutes and policies regarding what constitutes educational neglect. An obvious form of educational neglect is deliberately interfering with a child’s education. In general, some types of neglect include:
- Allowing for repeated or “chronic” truancy: Simply put, this occurs when the child is allowed to continually miss school or be delinquent. Habitual absenteeism happens when the child is allowed to miss at least five days of school per month, and the parent or guardian is notified of the issue and does not attempt to rectify the situation;
- Failure to enroll in school: You must register or enroll the child in school once they reach the mandatory age; this includes providing them with homeschooling. You cannot cause the child to miss at least one month of schooling because you failed to enroll or register them in a timely manner, without valid reasons; or
- Failure to ensure that the child is receiving proper educational care and attention: Refusing to allow, or failing to obtain, any recommended educational services, as well as refusing to allow or failing to obtain treatment for any diagnosed learning disorders may be examples of educational neglect. This includes special education, and any refusals to obtain or follow through must have reasonable cause for denial.
In some states, educational neglect can only apply to children of a certain age. This is generally from ages seven to fourteen, but the ages vary by state. Further, there may be separate neglect provisions that specifically address children who are being homeschooled. As previously mentioned, educational neglect is included in the definition of child abuse in twenty four states.
States that do not consider educational neglect to be child abuse will still enforce their own compulsory attendance statutes. They may enforce these statutes through other means instead of through social services.
There can be several legal consequences for educational neglect. These can include:
- Loss of your court appointed child custody rights;
- Reduced child visitation rights, or even a total loss of child visitation rights altogether; or
- Criminal penalties in cases involving willful conduct or other serious circumstances.
Lack of income may not be a valid excuse for failing to provide for a child’s education in some cases. This is especially true in cases where the parent or custodian could have worked to provide minimum education requirements, but simply chose not to. In cases such as this, the court may choose to enforce principles of imputed income.
Imputed income is where the court assigns or credits income to a parent who has reported little or no income. This calculates how much the parent should have made. This calculation is used to determine whether the parent should be found liable for educational neglect.
Education, and access to education, is absolutely essential to a child’s health, growth, and wellbeing. As such, the penalties for educational neglect can be quite severe. Additionally, educational neglect could be a sign of further neglect. For instance, if the parent or custodian is preventing the child from attending school so they cannot report other instances of abuse they are facing at home.
Educational neglect can have very serious and far reaching consequences for the both the child and the parent or custodian involved. Laws regarding educational neglect vary from state to state, but all are enforced strictly in order to avoid as many negative effects on the child’s well-being as possible.
You may need to immediately contact a knowledgeable and qualified child custody attorney if you are facing legal issues involving educational neglect. They will explain to you your state’s laws, as well as any options you may have or penalties you may be facing.