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Is Child Neglect Illegal in California?

Is Child Neglect Illegal in California?

Under California law, a child’s parents are required to provide the necessities of life for their children, including proper food, shelter, clothing, and medical assistance. Even if a parent falls on hard times, they are still required by law to ensure that their children are properly cared for.

Law enforcement, state prosecutors, child welfare agencies, and state legislators understand that it can be difficult for parents to meet all of their children’s needs, especially in California where the state has a high cost of living.

However, if a parent cannot afford to provide for their child, they’re still expected to find another way to meet their child’s needs. But, how is a parent supposed to do this?

If a parent is having financial problems, there are state resources available to help. For example, if a parent cannot pay for health insurance or food, they can apply for food stamps and Medicaid. There are also non-profit organizations and churches that help struggling families obtain necessary clothing for their children.

Some parents are too proud to ask for help from the government, but as a result their children suffer. Some parents take advantage of state resources as they should, but still fail to take their children to the dentist when they have a toothache, or fail to take their child to the doctor when they have a severe ear infection. Or, they sell their food stamps for cash and buy cigarettes or beer instead. Others, never apply for assistance and their children go without proper food, shelter, and clothing.

Am I breaking the law?

If you don’t provide for your child, can you be arrested and charged with a crime? Yes, you can. Under Section 270 of the California Penal Code, if a parent fails to provide their child with necessary food, shelter, or medical care, the parent is guilty of a misdemeanor, punishable by:

  • A fine not to exceed $2,000
  • Up to one year in county jail

While many parents violate Section 270, they don’t always fall under law enforcement’s radar. Often, a parent is arrested for child neglect after a mandated reporter, a family member, or a concerned neighbor calls the authorities and reports the neglect.

What is a mandated reporter?

In California, a “mandated reporter” is a teacher, a teacher’s aide, a public or private school employee, an employee at a public or private youth center, a Head Start teacher, an employee at a licensed day care facility, a social worker, a probation officer, a district attorney, firefighter, doctor, emergency medical technician (EMT), marriage or family therapist, animal control officer, or clergy member (e.g. bishop, priest, pastor).

All of these above individuals are required by state law to report suspected child abuse to the authorities. Often, a school teacher, or an ER doctor is the first to suspect child neglect and/or abuse, and they will immediately forward the information to the authorities, who subsequently launch an investigation against the parents.

Are you accused of neglecting your child? If so, you could be facing criminal charges and jail, both of which can affect your parental rights and child custody. Contact our Oakland criminal defense firm for a free case evaluation!

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