Many years ago my colleague Janet Mason recruited me to teach about evidence issues in abuse, neglect, dependency, and termination of parental rights cases. She asked because most of the appellate law was criminal. After some grumbling, I produced a skinny 10-page paper in 2001. I’ve been adding to it ever since, and it has grown to a much longer chapter in the just-released 2017 edition of Abuse, Neglect, Dependency, and Termination of Parental Rights Proceedings in North Carolina. Although the manual is not about criminal cases, it may be helpful to those who work in the criminal courts. You can access the manual at no charge here. You can jump directly to the evidence chapter here. Continue reading
Tag Archives: neglect
Evidence Issues Involving Children
[Editor’s note: This post originally ran last week on the School’s civil law blog, On the Civil Side. Because it concerns prosecutors’ roles in abuse, neglect, and dependency cases, it is cross-posted here.]
Like every other state, North Carolina has a mandated reporting law for child abuse and neglect. North Carolina’s law requires any person or institution with cause to suspect a child is abused, neglected, or dependent by a parent, guardian, custodian, or caretaker to make a report to the county child welfare department (in most counties, DSS) where the child resides or is found. G.S. 7B-301. What is in a report? Are there protections for the reporter? What are the rights of the reporter? If DSS decides not to initiate a court action, can the reporter challenge that decision?
Podcast Season 2 Is Here!
Beyond the Bench, the podcast of the Judicial College here at the School of Government, is back with a new season. Professor Sara DePasquale takes the reins as the host for Season 2, which explores the issue of juvenile homelessness.
Sara explains that the season:
focuses on neglect and the child welfare system with a particular emphasis on homelessness. Through six episodes, you will hear about family homelessness in North Carolina, whether homelessness is neglect and requires a report to a county child welfare (or social services) department under North Carolina’s mandated reporting laws, and the different stages of a child welfare case. Each episode discusses a different stage in a child welfare case and includes the various voices and perspectives of the people involved. Those voices include homeless shelter staff, county department social workers and attorney, the children’s guardian ad litem, a parent attorney, and district court judges.
The topic isn’t directly criminal-law related, so future episodes will be announced on this blog in the Friday news roundup rather than in their own posts. However, issues like poverty, substance abuse, and instability relate both to juvenile homelessness and to the criminal justice system, so the show may be of interest to many readers. In fact, anyone who has ever seen a homeless child may wonder about the central question presented in episode one: is a homeless child, by definition, suffering from neglect?
I’ve listened to the teaser and the first episode, and I am excited about the season. As before, you can listen to Beyond the Bench at the podcast website, through the iTunes podcast store, or via Stitcher.
[Editor’s note: This post was originally published on the SOG’s civil law blog, On the Civil Side. Nonetheless, given its coverage of Confrontation Clause issues arising from a criminal case, we thought that it would be of interest to many of our readers.]
Last month the U.S. Supreme Court decided Ohio v. Clark, 135 S.Ct. 2173 (2015). The Court determined whether a teacher’s testimony of a child’s statements to her was barred by the Confrontation Clause. My colleague, Jessica Smith, wrote a blog post about the holding and its impact in criminal cases. But, what about the world of child protective services? Continue reading →
[Update, May 2016: In this post on the SOG’s civil blog, Sara discusses two new appellate cases concerning the definition of abuse in the child discipline context.]
[Editor’s note: Today’s post is by Sara DePasquale, a relatively recent addition to the SOG faculty. Sara works in the areas of juvenile law and child welfare, and we are delighted to welcome her to the blog.]
Last Tuesday, Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson pled no contest to misdemeanor reckless assault after being charged in September with felony child abuse for disciplining his 4 year old son with a switch. Since the charges, he has been on the NFL “Commissioners Exempt List” and unable to play. Nike terminated his contract on Tuesday, and his future with the NFL remains uncertain. Continue reading →
The prosecution of a South Carolina mother who left her 9-year-old child unattended in a park several days in a row while the mother worked her shift at a nearby McDonald’s has been widely covered and roundly criticized. The mother reportedly was charged as a result of the incident with unlawful neglect of a child, a felony under South Carolina law.
I thought about that mother last night as I was reading Ramona the Pest, a Beverly Clearly classic, to my daughter at bedtime. In last night’s chapter, Ramona Quimby’s mother leaves Ramona at home alone one school morning and instructs her to begin walking to school at 8:15 a.m. Ramona is in kindergarten. Ramona’s mother is portrayed throughout the book as a reasonable and caring parent, and her decision to leave Ramona at home while she takes her older daughter to the doctor is written about as though it is a perfectly reasonable choice. I flipped to the front of the book to see the copyright date. 1968. That explains it, I thought.
In 2014, I’m pretty sure that most people would consider it unreasonable to leave a kindergarten age child at home unattended, even without instructing the child to later walk herself to school. I’m less sure about the public consensus on the decision the South Carolina mother made. My guess is that nearly everyone would view it as not ideal; some might call it unreasonable; and an even smaller number might consider it criminal.
In North Carolina, it is a Class 1 misdemeanor for a person who is at least 16 years old to knowingly or willfully cause a juvenile to be in a place or condition where the juvenile could be adjudicated neglected. See G.S. 14-316.1. This crime, which also applies to circumstances in which the minor could be adjudicated delinquent, undisciplined or abused, is commonly referred to as “contributing to the delinquency of a minor.”
The North Carolina Juvenile Code defines a “neglected juvenile” in part as one who does not receive proper care, supervision, or discipline from the juvenile’s parent, guardian, custodian, or caretaker. G.S. 7B-101(15). While North Carolina’s appellate courts have considered young children who are left unattended to be neglected within the meaning of this provision, the cases in which they have done so have also involved other types of neglectful behavior. See, e.g., In re Gleisner, 141 N.C. App. 475, 478-79 (2000) (finding substantial evidence of neglect based in part on mother’s act of leaving her eight-year-old daughter alone for three and a half hours as a form of discipline); In re Bell, 107 N.C. App. 566, 567-69 (1992) (noting that county Department of Social Services first became involved when it received a report stating that four children under the age of six had been left alone overnight, and affirming trial court’s adjudication of neglect based on the mother’s failure to ensure that her children received proper treatment from the county health department, to use her food stamps so as to keep an adequate supply of food in the house, and to take full advantage of free day care); see also In re D.M., 185 N.C. App. 159, 647 S.E.2d 689 (2007) (noting that trial court had adjudicated children neglected following petition alleging, among other neglectful acts, that children ages seven, six and four had been left alone for three days while their mother traveled out of town).
Indeed, in In re Stumbo, 357 N.C. 279, 284 (2003), the North Carolina Supreme Court noted that “not every act of negligence on the part of parents or other care givers constitutes “neglect” under the law and results in a “neglected juvenile” as “[s]uch a holding would subject every misstep by a care giver to the full impact of [the Juvenile Code],” including mandatory investigations by the Department of Social Services.
And, contrary to pervasive lore, no statute establishes a presumptive age at which a child may be left unattended. Cf. G.S. 14-318 (making it a Class 1 misdemeanor to go away from a building, leaving any child under 8 locked or otherwise confined “so as to expose the child to danger by fire” without leaving some person of the age of discretion in charge of the child).
Readers, what’s your view? Was prosecution of the South Carolina mom warranted? And at what age is it appropriate to leave a child home alone? From what I hear, once children are old enough to be left at home without risking allegations of neglect, you can’t leave them unattended for fear of other consequences.