A subset category of abuse, neglectful treatment of an individual – be it a spouse, child, or even elderly person – rests in a relative ‘grey area’ under the law. As with most legal matters, proof of neglect typically decides whether or not action can or should be taken, and oftentimes, families are given broad leeway, making supportive action challenging for law enforcement, social workers, and child welfare agencies.
For most, neglect is obvious. Visitors, family members, neighbors and sometimes, even strangers, will notice frequent or unexplained ailments or injuries, weight loss, and behavior changes which clearly coincide with neglect or abuse. However, outwardly noticeable symptoms aren’t always obvious as perpetrators of neglect tend to wield baseline forms of care (grooming/hygiene, feeding, supervision, shelter, clothing, health care and education) against their victims. Because of this, neglect carries with it profound, long term side effects including, but not limited to: low self-esteem, development issues, violent behavior, chronic medical problems and the inability to maintain social relationships.
Parenting alone is a difficult responsibility, and not every person showcases the same temperament, tolerance, skill or interest in being a caregiver. Because not every person is destined to be a good parent, young children can easily become victims of neglect or abuse.
“Sometimes I keep my oldest child home from school to help me with her brothers and sisters. What’s the problem?”
“Because of my religious beliefs, I don’t believe in seeking medical attention for my children or myself. I have the right to choose my religious practice!”
The above comments were made by parents or caregivers who naturally assumed they could raise their children in whichever way they choose. In New York State however, laws exist to protect children from harm that parents or caregivers may intentionally or unintentionally inflict. In some cases, a lapse in judgment, or a poor decision made on behalf of your child, can be mistaken as neglect, in the eyes of someone else. Perhaps you left your child home alone briefly to run an errand, or for the sake of avoiding an argument, you allowed your child to play at a neighbor’s house without being adequately dressed for the weather. A person who doesn’t share your point of view may consider either of these things as neglect. Hence, the ‘grey area.’
Sadly, news headlines are frequently riddled with stories about parents who abandon young or handicapped children and, while reasons for doing so vary, in the eyes of New York State law, it doesn’t matter. The law indicates that should a parent or guardian of a child harm the child, fail to properly care for the child, abandon the child or otherwise fail to exercise the minimum degree of care, it will be considered actionable neglect.
Neglect can also be emotional. Children need to know their parents love them, and need them, and exist to take care of them. Children who are neglected can become emotionally detached, socially inept, depressed, and even suicidal. On a larger scale, if not dealt with, neglect can become cyclical, and as an adult, one could repeat the behaviors of abuse and neglect to another child.
In New York State, every alleged case of child abuse or neglect is investigated by the county's Department of Social Services or New York City's Administration for Children Services. If evidence of child neglect or abuse is found, the child protective agency can petition the court for help with protecting the child.
Given the numerous signs to look for, and ‘grey area’ surrounding definitive cases of neglect, all allegations and accusations are taken very seriously. If you suspect a child you know is suffering from any type of neglect, or if you believe you have been falsely accused of neglect in any way, please contact Child Protective Services as well as our offices. Marnell Law Group, P.C. can and will assist you with your situation on a discreet, individual, one-on-one basis, while placing you and your child’s best interests at the forefront.
*The local child protection agency in NY is Children’s Services. www.nyc.gov/html/acs/downloads/pdf/stateguide_english.pdf