Child Abuse Defined & Defense Against False Charges
Unfortunately, we see too many Family Court cases that involve allegations of child neglect on Long Island. Many of our clients have been in the position of being falsely accused of neglecting their children, while other clients believe their children are being neglected by their other parent. Regardless of how you ended up in a Child Neglect Proceeding, it is important to understand certain concepts and definitions that will be used in court.
What Is the Family Court Act?
In New York State, Neglect Proceedings are heard in Family Court and are usually governed by a statute known as the Family Court Act. The Act defines child neglect or abuse as “the act, or failure to act, by any parent or caretaker that results in the death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse, or exploitation of a child.” It’s also important to recognize that child abuse and neglect, although lumped together in the definition above, are defined and treated differently in Family Courts on Long Island.
What is Child Abuse?
Child abuse is a broad term that describes many types of mistreatment toward a child. Typically, child abuse is perpetrated by a parent, another family member like a grandparent or sibling, or a caregiver. Child abuse includes both acts that cause harm and those that can potentially cause harm and can occur in many places: at home, school, a friend’s house, and in some cases, a public place.
Types of Child Abuse
Under New York law, child abuse can be broken down into four different types: physical, emotional, sexual, and neglect. No one type of abuse is more severe than another; rather, all of them have a deep, lifelong impact on a child and in many cases, occur together.
Physical Child Abuse
Physical child abuse occurs when a parent or caretaker inflicts serious physical injury on the child. This abuse also encompasses situations in which the parent or caretaker allows a third party to inflict a serious physical injury. Serious physical injury constituting child abuse may result from actions such as shaking, beating, biting, kicking, punching, and burning. Unfortunately, this is not an exhaustive list, but it does comprise the most common ways physical abuse manifests. Of course, this does not include normal childhood injuries that are caused by accident.
Emotional Child Abuse
Emotional child abuse is typically defined as “the non-physical maltreatment of a child that can seriously interfere with his or her positive emotional development.” It’s a myth that emotional abuse is “less severe” than physical abuse; both are equally detrimental to a developing child. Usually, patterns of abusive behavior include constant rejection, terrorizing, exposing a child to corruption, violence or criminal behavior, irrational behavior, excessive yelling, belittling and teasing. A subcategory of emotional abuse is verbal abuse, where a child is verbally threatened, put down, and criticized.
The definition of child sexual abuse, or CSA, is any sexual activity that takes place with a minor. New York and federal law recognizes that a child under the age of 18 cannot consent to sexual activity of any kind. The sexual abuse of a child can include but is not limited to indecent exposure, grooming, child pornography, inappropriate sexual games or touching, and penetration.
Neglect is a type of child abuse that is further defined as the failure of a parent or caretaker to provide needed food, clothing, shelter, medical care, or supervision to the degree to which the child’s health, safety, and well-being are threatened with harm. Child neglect includes action or inaction that either causes or has the potential to cause harm to a child.
Types of Child Neglect
With this definition, there are many subcategories of child neglect, some of which are discussed below:
Parents are responsible for providing a minimum degree of care for their children. Physical neglect refers to the failure to provide a child’s basic living necessities, including food, clothing, and shelter. A child victim of physical neglect may not have enough food to eat at home or clean clothes that fit properly. They may live in a home where the parents are unable to afford to pay for heating or cooling, meaning they are without adequate shelter. Many families who live in poverty are unable to meet the physical needs of their children, despite tremendous effort and willingness. Abandonment, inadequate supervision of a child, and excessive corporal punishment are also forms of physical neglect.
Emotional neglect is the failure of a parent or caregiver to supply the child with the love and support necessary for healthy development. This may include failure to provide warmth, attention, supervision, affection, praise, or encouragement to a child. Emotional neglect is not the same as emotional abuse; typically, emotional abuse is considered purposeful or intentional, while emotional neglect may not be. One can assume that a child who is being emotionally abused is also being emotionally neglected, however, emotional neglect can occur without emotional abuse.
Educational neglect includes failure to enroll school-aged children in school, allowing unexplained absences from school, refusal of recommended remedial services without good reason, and failure to respond to attendance questions. In New York, a child may not miss 10% or more of school days. In a 180-day school year, this is 18 days, or approximately two days a month. Even when an absence from school is excused, such as for a doctor’s appointment, it’s counted toward this total.
New York does allow homeschooling and does not require parents to hold any teaching certifications to provide education to their children. However, to comply with legal requirements, homeschooling families must file a notice of intent to homeschool, maintain attendance, and provide roughly the same amount of instruction as traditional schooling in the same subject areas. Failure to follow homeschooling requirements can also constitute educational neglect.
The Impacts of Child Abuse and Neglect
The physical, emotional, and psychological effects of childhood abuse and neglect last a lifetime. Many children who suffer abuse or neglect in childhood go on to develop anxiety, depression, eating disorders, personality disorders, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Often, PTSD in children and adults who come from abusive or neglectful homes is complex and chronic, and less responsive to traditional treatments for PTSD.
Prolonged time spent in fight-or-flight mode while a child’s brain is developing has been shown to impact the brain’s structural integrity. The amygdala, or the part of the brain responsible for fear and emotions, becomes overactive. It can no longer communicate well with the prefrontal cortex, or the part of the brain responsible for logic. The result is often chronic anxiety and unregulated emotions that tend to be treatment-resistant.
Each child will react differently to instances of abuse and neglect, and no two cases are precisely the same. However, the consensus is that child maltreatment not only deeply affects the child and their development during the abuse, but also for the remainder of their lives. In what ways the child will be affected largely depends on the child, the type of abuse or neglect, and other unique circumstances.
Have More Questions About Child Abuse & Neglect in New York? Contact Us
While this list may seem long, it is by no means exhaustive. Unfortunately, these are just a few of the many ways that parents end up in Family Court for a Child Neglect Proceeding. Whether you are facing wrongful allegations of child abuse and neglect or want to protect your child from someone who you believe may be abusing them, Hornberger & Verbitsky, P.C. cam help you.
If you have any questions regarding Child Abuse or Neglect, we can help. Contact our Long Island Divorce & Family Law firm at 631-923-1910 to set up your free consultation with one of our experienced Family
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