Child abandonment occurs when a parent, guardian, or person in charge of a child either deserts a child without any regard for the child's physical health, safety or welfare and with the intention of wholly abandoning the child, or in some instances, fails to provide necessary care for a child living under their roof.
While child abandonment typically involves physical abandonment - such as leaving a child at a stranger's doorstep when no one is home -- it may also include extreme cases of emotional abandonment -- such as when a "work-a-holic" parent offers little or no physical contact or emotional support over long periods of time.
Unfortunately, abandoned children (also called "foundlings") who do not get their needs met often grow up with low self-esteem, emotional dependency, helplessness, and other issues.
A person charged with child abandonment may face felony or misdemeanor penalties and other consequences.
What Constitutes Child Abandonment? + The term "child abandonment" is broadly categorized and used to describe a variety of behaviors. Specific examples of child abandonment vary, but common actions that may lead to child abandonment charges may include:Leaving a child with another person without provision for the child's support and without meaningful communication with the child for a period of three months;Making only minimal efforts to support and communicate with a childFailing for a period of at least six months to maintain regular visitation with a child;Failed to participate in a suitable plan or program designed to reunite the parent or guardian with a child;Leaving an infant on a doorstep, in trash cans and dumpsters, and on the side of the roadBeing absent from the home for a period of time that created a substantial risk of serious harm to a child left in the homeFailing to respond to notice of child protective proceedings; orBeing unwilling to provide care, support, or supervision for the child
Child Abandonment Laws + Child abandonment laws vary from state to state. Many states include child abandonment within its child abuse laws and vice versa, while some states have laws specifically targeting the act of child abandonment.
Most states classify child abandonment as a felony, which may include situations where a parent or guardian physically abandons a child in any place with the intent of relinquishing all rights and responsibilities to the child.
Other states classify child abandonment as a misdemeanor (with lesser penalties), including situations that involve non-physical acts of abandonment.
In general, child abandonment occurs when:A parent, guardian, or other person having physical custody or control of a childWithout regard for the mental or physical health, safety, or welfare of the childKnowing leaves a child (typically under the age of 13) without supervision by a responsible person (typically over the age of 14), orFails to maintain contact with the child or provide reasonable support For a specified period of time
In the criminal context, child abandonment is defined as physically abandoning a child, but may also include emotional abandonment such as failing to provide the necessary needs to a child. For example, in some states, a parent may be guilty of abandonment if they fail to provide necessary clothing, food, shelter or medical care for their child. In other states, however, parents are only punished for deserting a child with the intention to abandon.
Mandatory Reporting Laws + Because child abandonment is considered child abuse in some states, certain people may be required to report known or suspected cases of child abandonment to the proper authorities. Check your state's child abuse laws to see if you qualify as a "mandatory reporter."
Safe Haven Law Exception + Most jurisdictions have exceptions to child abandonment in the form of safe haven laws. Safe Haven Laws allow mothers to safely abandon their newborn infants in safe locations - such as churches, hospitals, and fire stations - without fear of being charged with the crime of child abandonment.
Leaving a Child at Home Alone + While it is necessary in some instances to leave a child at home alone, states typically offer age guidelines to help parents avoid child abandonment charges. Under some state statutes, leaving a child at home alone may constitute child abandonment, depending on a number of factors, including the age of the child, duration of time the child was left without adult supervision, and economic hardship or illness of the parent or guardian.Read tips on leaving a child home alone.
Child Abandonment Penalties and Punishment + Depending on the state, a person charged with criminal child abandonment faces a wide range of penalties and sentencing options, depending on whether the state makes it a felony or misdemeanor. A court will take the factors listed above into consideration - but the penalties may include fines, termination of parental rights, supervised access to the child, and jail time.
In addition, a person may face reckless abandonment charges of a greater penalty if a child dies as a result of the abandonment.
For a discussion of child abuse defenses.
If you are facing child abandonment charges, it is usually best to work with a criminal defense lawyer in your area to reduce or lessen the severity of penalties in all cases involving child abuse.
When Can You Leave a Child Home Alone?
The 1990 movie Home Alone may have poked fun at what could happen when an eight-year old boy is accidentally left home alone, yet in reality it is not uncommon for thousands of American children to be left home alone on any given day. Children who are left home alone - sometimes known as "latchkey kids"-- are often left without adult supervision for reasons beyond a parent's control and, in some unfortunate situations, out of neglect orchild abuse.
For anyone considering whether it is alright to leave a child at home alone, there are important safety and legal guidelines to consider before leaving any child unsupervised for any extended period of time.Laws for Leaving a Child Home Alone
Only a couple of states have laws that specify the age when a child can be left home alone, including Maryland (age 8) and Illinois (age 14). However, most states have guidelines with the Department of Health and Human Services or other child protective agencies that test a child's ability to be left home alone. Factors may include the child's age and maturity, the overall safety of the surrounding area/circumstances, and arrangements made to secure the child's safety.
Below are general guidelines to follow when considering the age range for leaving a child home alone.
7 & under - Should not be left alone for any period of time. This may include leaving children unattended in cars, playgrounds, and backyards. The determining consideration would be the dangers in the environment and the ability of the caretaker to intervene.
8 to 10 years - Should not be left alone for more than 1½ hours and only during daylight and early evening hours.
11 to 12 years - May be left alone for up to 3 hours but not late at night or in circumstances requiring inappropriate responsibility.
13 to 15 years - May be left unsupervised, but not overnight.
16 to 17 years - May be left unsupervised (in some cases, for up to two consecutive overnight periods).How to Know If a Child Is Ready to Stay at Home Alone
It is important to note that no two children are alike, and parents must decide on a case-by-case basis what is best for their child. Therefore, in addition to the general guidelines listed above, a parent or caretaker should consider the following before leaving a child at home alone:The age and maturity level of the childThe length of time the child will need to stay home aloneWhether the child works well independently and follows directionsThe age and number of other children being left at homeThe safety of the surrounding neighborhoodWillingness of neighbors to check in with the child during the dayWhether the child would feel "safe" staying home aloneSafety Tips for Leaving a Child Home Alone
Finally, if leaving your child at home alone is a necessity - at least where older children are involved - you can follow the following guidelines:Have the child memorize his or her full name, address, and telephone numberPost a list of emergency, local, and long distance numbers to call in the event of an emergencyInform immediate neighbors that your child may be home alone on some days. Not only can a neighbor be a good resource in the event of an emergency, it can help alleviate potential calls to child protective services by unaware neighborsCall the child at several times during the day while you are away.Teach the child how to work the locks on windows and doors and to lock them when at homeTell the child not to go into other people's home (even neighbors) without your permissionDesignate a "safe house" to run to if the child ever feels that he or she is in dangerNever allow a child to work the oven or stove without a parent or adult caretakerConsider programs offered by schools, organizations, and churches for extended periods of home alone time.
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