Articles Posted in Child Abuse

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When a child does something wrong, many parents believe in disciplining the child through spanking or some other form of corporal punishment. But some parents hesitate to spank their child because they are unsure if it is legal.

Various studies released over the past decade and beyond seem to indicate that is not “good parenting” to physically discipline a child as punishment. However, there are still many parents who strongly believe that when a child does something wrong, the best form of punishment to impose is a spanking.

Is this illegal? What type of physical discipline is lawful? Can social workers take away your child if you use a wooden spoon to spank him or her after they disobeyed family rules?

You Can Be Charged with Child Endangerment for Spanking Your Child

Thousands of children have been taken from their parents because the parents decided to use an object such as a wooden spoon to impose punishment. Some parents have even been arrested and criminally convicted for using similar punishment on their children. Child%20Abuse.jpg

California Penal Code 273(a) provides that a person is guilty of child endangerment if they:

  • Caused or permitted a child to suffer unjustifiable physical pain or mental suffering;and
  • Was criminally negligent when he or she caused or permitted the child to suffer or be injured, or be endangered.

If you are being charged with child endangerment, an experienced attorney can argue a valid defense for you. The best defense against charges of child endangerment if you are using corporal punishment is that your conduct was not criminal, but instead was exercising reasonable discipline upon your child. “Reasonableness” is determined by these two factors:

  • Was the punishment warranted? and
  • Was the punishment excessive under the circumstances?

The court will review the surrounding circumstances to conclude whether the incident constitutes reasonable discipline.

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Recently a child with autism was left unattended on a bus for over 6 hours. Under current California law, that could be considered child neglect or potential child endangerment.

It is still unclear who was ultimately responsible for this, but certainly there is potential of a criminal charge being filed if this was done intentionally or with negligence. The school district also may face civil sanctions if it is determined the child was in the care of the district at the time he was left alone. In order to understand this issue, it is important to first understand child abuse and child endangerment laws in California.

Child Abuse vs Child Endangerment

Although the child in this case was not injured, child endangerment charges could be filed if the conduct (or lack thereof) created a dangerous situation. A child with autism left alone on a bus would be considered dangerous because this endangered his life and well-being. But could someone also face charges of child abuse in this case?

In order to understand this, we must first look at the California laws regarding child abuse and child endangerment. California Penal Code Section 273 defines child endangerment. The main difference between this statute and California child abuse laws is that physical abuse of a minor must be present in order to convict you of child abuse. However, child endangerment is a much broader term.

Under PC 273, any of the following acts is considered child endangerment:

  • Cause or permit a child to suffer unjustifiable physical pain or mental suffering;
  • Willfully cause or permit a child in your care to be injured; or
  • Willfully cause or permit a child to be placed in a dangerous situation.

In order to be convicted of this crime, you didn’t have to have the specific intent to break the law or cause harm, but the term “willfully” means that you willingly or on purpose allowed the minor to be injured or placed in danger.

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Having represented school teachers throughout Southern California for over 30 years, I can tell you that teachers are trained as to their legal obligation to report “suspected child abuse”.

Ideally, teachers would always want to do the right thing to make sure that their students are not abused. However, the problem often arises as to what is “reasonable suspicion” of child abuse. A student comes to class with a bruise on his cheek, and the student says that he “hit himself”. The teacher may wonder if the student is telling the truth, but is that “reasonable suspicion” to report a parent for possible child abuse?

Teachers realize that when a report is made, CPS is now going to get involved, and parents are going to be contacted. The system often makes mistakes and takes children away from their parents when parents have done nothing wrong.

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CACI hearingThe California Child Abuse Central Index (CACI) is a tool created by the California Legislature to protect the health and safety of children. CACI is a list consisting of names of people who have been investigated or charged with child abuse. The primary purpose of CACI is to permit specified government agencies to locate prior reports detailing investigations of known or suspected child abuse or severe neglect.

Every law enforcement agency, probation department, social services, and some other government agencies must report to the Department of Justice every incident of suspected child abuse or sever neglect for which the agency conducts an investigation, and for which it determines that the allegations of child abuse or severe neglect are either substantiated or inconclusive. Such reports detail the investigation of alleged physical abuse, sexual abuse, mental or emotional abuse, severe neglect, willful child endangerment, unlawful corporal punishment, or death of a child.

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