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Failure to Provide Care (Child Neglect)

Are you being accused of child neglect or the failure to provide care? Child neglect is not something to take lightly. Charges of any crime can easily bring about feelings of fear, confusion, anxiety, and worse. In California, the state punishes crimes towards children even more harshly than other crimes, which can amplify those feelings.

Luckily, we are here to help people throughout the Long Beach, California, region. We are Long Beach Criminal Attorney and we have professional experience handling a vast range of child crimes, including the failure to provide care.

We put together this guide as an overview to the crime of child neglect, known formally as the failure to provide child care, in California. This information is educational in nature and shall not be used as specific legal advice or action around your case, as only a lawyer or legal team with full knowledge of your situation can provide that.

What Is Failure to Provide Care?

“Failure to provide care” and “child neglect” are two terms for a situation wherein there is a pattern of failure to provide or take care of a child’s basic needs, which may include adequate food and water, hygiene, clothing, or supervision. The Children’s Bureau of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services refers to child neglect as an overwhelming act of omission, in their report on Federal and State laws about child neglect and child abuse.

In California, this child neglect is illegal. The California Penal Code Section 270 outlines the law, entitled Abandonment and Neglect of Children. This law is breached by any parent who commits the willful omission of providing basic necessities to his or her minor child, unless the parent has a legal excuse.

Let’s break down the three parts of this:

  • Willful omission is the failure to act and provide physical necessities. This is a crime of doing nothing as opposed to doing something, which most crimes fall under.
  • His or her minor child. A child is determined as under age XXX and the parent refers to any legally recognized parent as well as any caregivers that may act as parents even without legal responsibility or obligation.
  • Without a lawful excuse means the parent has no legal excuse or reason for which the parent was unable to provide such necessities.

The law defines such necessities as appropriate food, clothing, shelter, and medical attendance (or other types of remedial care). Remedial care can refer to any treatment by spiritual means, such as if a parent opts for a spiritual means instead of a medical means for treatment, perhaps through prayer or in a practice that follows a recognized church’s or religious group’s practices (performed by an accredited practitioner).

Is it the same thing as child neglect?


Yes. Child neglect is more commonly and casually used for the legal term “failure to provide care”.

Are child neglect and child abuse the same thing?

Not quite. The term “child abuse” can include any number of crimes committed against children. Child neglect, more specifically, is one type of the many crimes under the umbrella of child abuse. In fact, of the many types of child abuse, child neglect is one of the most commonly reported.

Who Is Considered A Parent? A Child?

The California law regarding child neglect follows state definitions for child and parent, depending on the situation. A child is any person under the age of 18, unless otherwise specified by legal or court decisions. Importantly, this law in particular also recognizes any child who is conceived, though not yet born, to be a child.

This law defines parents quite broadly to include a number of people who may have legal or other relationships or responsibilities to the child.

A parent who may commit neglect can include the following relationships:

  • A biological father or mother of the child
  • The husband of a women who has a child after artificial insemination, even if the husband was not involved in such artificial insemination, as long as he consented in writing to the procedure
  • A parent who rarely or even never is in touch with the child, even if the other parent prevented it from occurring

Parents of the child are considered parents regardless of whether the parents ever married and are now divorced and regardless of any divorce-related decree which determines alimony or child support. The only parents who are no longer responsible for a child are those who are determined to have no rights or obligations to the child by a court declaration.

Who Neglects A Child?

We often think as caretakers as a person who commits this crime, as it is such a person’s legal responsibility to do so. This could be parents or stepparents, grandparents, or other family members who provide regular care for the child. It may also include babysitters, day care workers, and others who spend time with a particular child long enough that some level of care is required.

Determining who may commit child neglect is tricky because it’s not always clear. There may be a change in a caregiver, such a swift or gradual change in mental or physical performance, like a serious illness, short- or long-term injury, depression, anxiety, particularly if it’s undiagnosed or untreated. Drug abuse and alcohol abuse may also impair a caregiver’s judgment as well as the caregiver’s ability to keep the child safe and meeting minimum basic needs.

Visible Signs of Child Neglect (Failure to Provide Care)

There are countless signs that could indicate child neglect, but it is important to know that there is not one single defining characteristic. Instead, a charge of failure to provide care can touch on several of these, one in particular, or others not listed below. Some examples of child neglect may include:

  • Physical neglect:
    • Frequently hungry and perhaps displays signs like seeking food or hoarding food
    • Small in body weight or height for age
    • Clothing that may be dirty, poorly fitting, inappropriate for the weather, or simply not covering the body
    • Hygiene that is consistently and noticeably poor, such as dirty skin, unwashed hair, body odor, etc.
    • Illnesses or physical injuries that appear to be ignored or untreated
  • Mental and/or emotional neglect:
    • Frequent displays of strong emotions, such as anger, frustration, and misbehavior
  • Inadequate supervision and/or educational neglect:
    • Being allowed to play in unsafe areas or situations
    • Frequently tardy or absent from school or changing schools altogether
    • Simply being left alone

Importantly, while proving something in other crimes can be difficult, proof in this situation is explicitly spelled out by California law: the prosecuting team can prove you abandoned, deserted, or otherwise did not provide the child necessities, this becomes prima facie evidence that supports the willful intent without lawful excuse. That means that this assumption of willful intent with no legal excuse is correct and accurate unless the defense team can prove otherwise – a term known as the burden of proof.

What Is the Punishment for This Crime?

There are generally two punishments for child neglect in California, depending on the situation:

  • If a parent or legal guardian is found guilty by a court of child neglect, the parent is convicted of a misdemeanor crime. Punishment for this crime can include paying a fine up to $2,000, imprisonment in a county jail (not state prison) for up to 1 year, and or any combination therein.
  • If a court has already judged a parent regarding child neglect and the parent has received notice of the adjudication and then, knowingly, commits child neglect, the punishment may opt for a felony crime instead. Punishment for such a felony include imprisonment in a county jail for a maximum of 1 year, imprisonment in a state prison for 1 year and 1 day, or paying a fine of up to $2,000, or any combination of imprisonment and fine.

In determining punishment, the court may also consider the parent’s ability to support the child by determining income, benefits, gifts, etc.

The court may also sentence the guilty party to probation, which means the person will likely service little to no time in jail or prison, but will have to comply with either misdemeanor or felony probation, as appropriate. Another frequent condition may be attending parenting classes or meeting with a counselor.

Should the parent fail to comply with all conditions, the court can order a probation violation hearing. If the parent cannot prove any legal excuse for such violation, the court can revoke probation and reinstate jail time.

A felony crime, though rare in these circumstances, can have significant and negative long-term impact on your life. Convicted felons automatically lose specific rights, including the right to bear arms and shoot legal firearms and the right to vote in any election, until or unless their rights are reinstated. Furthermore, many companies show prejudice against convicted felons, making it difficult to obtain or keep any gainful employment for long.

Charges of Child Neglect

In California, there are many ways that child neglect can be reported. While in most unrelated crimes, one party must press charges against another party directly, in this case, members of a community can report alleged child neglect to an authority who may then investigate it. For instance, a teacher at your child’s school or a parent in the neighborhood may notice the signs of child neglect and choose to report it, anonymously and confidentially, to an authority such as Child Protective Services or the county’s child abuse departments.

Some community members are required to report – known as mandated reporters – and these include any school or school district employees, athletic coaches, and administrators within in all California school districts.

What to Do When You Are Charged with Child Neglect

If you are or will soon be charged with child neglect, you should begin preparing for the long road ahead of you. It can be difficult to navigate, but with these tips in mind, you may be able to reduce your punishment or to avoid a guilty determination altogether.

  • Remember the details. A charge of child neglect typically rests of the repeated omission of acts, not on a single event. You’ll want to remember as much as possible about your relationship with the child: perhaps you do not know the child, or even that the child is your responsibility, or perhaps you have no relationship with the child. Perhaps you have extenuating health or mental health circumstances that prevent you from providing care. Take notes on as much as you can remember – and consider things like specific events in and around yours and the child’s home, witnesses, family members, and more.
  • Track your own evidence. Remembering the details may help you obtain evidence that supports your claim. Perhaps a doctor or a psychologist can speak to your health, or perhaps you have receipts that show you have indeed purchased food, shelter, and more that go to support that child.
  • Find an ally. A case like this can take a significant mental and emotional toll. Find an ally that you can speak with – whether a spouse or family member or a professional therapist or counselor.
  • Obtain a lawyer. A charge of child neglect is a serious crime and one that is difficult to navigate alone. Defending yourself, with no legal experience, is even more difficult. Instead, meet with several lawyers to find one who seems the best fit for you and your case. A lawyer experienced with child-related cases will explore several defense strategies, including lack of responsibility, no willful intent, financial crisis, reasonable lack of knowledge, and even false accusations. With your candor and honesty about the situation, your defense lawyer will help you build your strongest defense against child neglect.

Failure to Provide Care Attorney Near You

Long Beach Criminal Attorney has helped many people across Long Beach fight cases of child neglect in California. Our team of lawyers and legal professionals are experts at the California state laws around failure to provide care to children, and we also know how to navigate the courts and judges of the Long Beach region. If you’re looking for the best defense in the area, contact us today at 562-308-7807.