When is a Finding of Emotional Neglect Proper or Not?
When it comes to the abuse or neglect of children in New York State, Child Protective Services (CPS), judges, and the Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) make the important decisions. These findings are sometimes challenged, though, and the question or whether or not an emotional neglect finding should stand or not is often brought up.
The law in New York State says that emotional abuse of a child, which includes neglects, can involve either the acts or omissions of the child’s parents or caretakers, resulting in severe changes to the child’s behavior, mental functions, conduct or cognitive functions.
Parents are responsible for giving the right emotional and physical support to their child so the child can develop as they child. When a parent does not offer this level of support, whether that’s on purpose or by accident, it may be considered neglect.
The Family Court Act’s section 1012(f) says that a child who is neglected or mistreated is any person under 18 years old who has impaired emotional, mental or physical conditions because of their parents’ actions or inaction. Caretakers and parents are expected to give their children a certain level of care, which includes:
• Supervising them as to prevent possible harm whenever possible, and to a reasonable degree.
• Giving them education, food, clothing and shelter.
• Providing them with medical care as needed, which includes optometric, surgical and dental care.
There was a case that focused on proof of a child’s injuries, which were the result of parental neglect. It was decided that the injuries were legitimate and that, since the child was only five years old, they could only occur in a home where there is neglect.
This case involved a mother, the child’s primary caretaker. The child regularly showed troubled behavior, which included using obscene words and being preoccupied with sexual conduct. It was unclear if the mother trained her son to exhibit this behavior or if she simply allowed the behavior to continue ¬– either way, it was determined that she was neglectful.
Burden of Evidence
Simply speculating that neglect led to emotional or mental issues with the child is not enough to find that neglect was present. The attorneys involved and the department of social services must show that there is an actual connection between the neglect and the child’s impairments, or that the neglect has caused risk for an impairment. While the allegations don’t have to be shown to be 100% true, they have to show that they were more true than not, or that they were at least 50% true. It’s important to note that it may be determined that neglect was the cause if the child’s condition exhibits impairment that could not have occurred if neglect was not present.
Since New York State courts can’t say that a parent is accountable based on speculation alone, a casual relationship has to be shown, and there are two aspects to this:
• Danger, either actual or imminent
• Not exercising the basic degree of care
The state cannot intrude on a family if there isn’t proof of actual or potential harm. Also, imminent danger has to be shown to be impending instead of just potential. Something that could possibly happen isn’t enough – there has to be reason to believe that something will likely happen, even if it hasn’t yet.
For example, if a woman is yelling at her teenage daughter on their front lawn, their neighbors may call the cops. The woman may be arrested because of disorderly conduct. Even if the children were present for all of this, though, and even though the woman was acting inappropriately and possibly even aggressively (in a verbal manner) to her children, it doesn’t appear that the children were in harm or in danger of being harmed.
In another example, a woman leaves her three children alone for the night, and they have to take care of themselves. The children are not upset by this, but because they’re young, the court would see this as the mother not exercising the basic level of care necessary. However, if this is just a single, isolated incident, and even if the mother did neglect the children for that night, it’s not enough to prove neglect that dangers the children.
Even domestic violence cases against children are difficult to prove. There has to be domestic violence that’s so common or severe that it poses a risk to the child’s emotional or mental health. Things like strict household rules or punishments may not impact the child’s health, safety, growth or performance enough to be considered neglect or abuse. Domestic violence is often a basic for finding a parent guilty of neglect, but the violence has to be proven to be either severe or repetitive.
Neglect and Abuse in Family Law
There is so much to know when it comes to cases of neglect or abuse. If you’re facing a pending case, or you feel that someone you know is being abused or neglected, contact our Long Island attorneys right away. It can be painful to know that a child is in danger and feel like you can’t do anything about it. Speak with one of our experienced and compassionate attorneys today.
Legal matters involving children are always complex. When CPS becomes involved, though, they can seem incredibly dire. When you hear phrases like emotional neglect being bandied about, it’s important to know exactly what is being discussed. While emotional neglect can be hard to prove, a successful case can play a huge role in whether or not a parent retains custody. Understanding whether or not a finding of emotional neglect is proper requires first understanding a bit more about how the finding is made in the first place.
It’s often best to start with the nature of the charge. In New York, neglected children are defined as those who have not had their condition(be they physical, mental, or emotional) negatively impacted by the action or inaction of a parent or guardian. A parent is expected to meet a minimum level of care, which involves providing basic survival necessities, medical care, and providing the supervision necessary to reasonably avoid harm or other risks whenever possible. Parents who fail to live up to this standard and fail to prevent emotional/psychological harm can be found to have been emotionally neglectful.
For any finding of neglect to occur, one must first start by establishing an injury. While emotional neglect’s injuries might be harder to prove than those caused by physical neglect, they must still have been shown to occur. CPS must show that the child has come to some kind of quantifiable harm due to the neglect of his or her guardians. This can be difficult to prove, especially if the child’s injuries are not reported by a professional. For any case to move forward, this injury absolutely must be established in a concrete way.
Once the injury has been established, it becomes a matter of figuring out who is at fault. This tends to bring one back to a more typical neglect analysis – did the parent act in a neglectful way and, if so, was that the cause of the harm? When talking about emotional neglect, it’s usually the proximate cause of the problematic behaviors and/or injuries that must be seen. A parent will usually be seen as emotionally neglectful if he or she was the cause of the injury or simply failed to act in a reasonable manner to stop the injury from occurring.
With those two factors in mind, it is typical to look at the state of New York’s attempts to find emotional neglect as a two-prong process. The state will seek to show that the child is in actual or imminent danger and that the danger itself is caused by the neglect of the parent. It’s a test that requires both parts to be satisfied to work – if only one of the factors is satisfied, it won’t be a proper finding emotional neglect.
The first prong is the easiest to satisfy in most cases. This helps to ensure that the case for emotional neglect isn’t brought up due to simple speculation. If the child is actually in danger, the case can move forward. If the child’s behaviors are likely to cause danger soon, the case can also move forward. If the behaviors and/or injury simply seem to be problematic and possible to cause problems in the distant future, though, the state does not have grounds to push forward with a case of emotional neglect. It might seem like a small difference, but it is quite important in the law.
More difficult is the relationship between that danger and the actions of the parents. As discussed above, there must be a connection between the way a parent has acted and the danger the child is in. The court has typically found that emotional neglect is a pattern, not a one-time occurrence. As such, a parent can act in a manner that would otherwise be considered neglectful, but CPS will not become involved until that pattern has been established. It can take quite a bit of effort to prove that any actions by the parent rise to the level of actually putting a child in danger.
Emotional neglect is a very serious issue and one which CPS does not take lightly. Actually proving that it has occurred, though, is more difficult than most imagine. There must be a real injury, a real chance of danger, and a connection to the actions (or inaction) of the parent for the finding to be proper. If you are involved in a case in which emotional neglect is being discussed, it is important that you speak with an attorney. This type of situation is far too complex to even consider without the help of a trained professional.