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Child Neglect Laws in the State of California

California’s lawmakers don’t have any patience for parents (or others) who neglect children. The topic of child neglect in California is addressed in Penal Code 270 PC. The defines child neglect as a parent’s (or guardian’s) failure to provide the child with the basic necessities the child needs in order to live a reasonable quality of life.

When you read through Penal Code 270 PC you’ll quickly discover that California’s lawmakers realized that there are some situations that can make it look like a child is neglected even though they aren’t. The law specifically states, “The court, in determining the ability of the parent to support his or her child, shall consider all income, including social insurance benefits and gifts.”

Examples of what California lawmakers consider prosecutable child neglect include:

  • Failing to take a seriously ill child to the doctor/hospital for medical treatment
  • Failing to provide the child with the proper nutrition
  • Failing to make sure the child has adequate housing
  • Failing to provide a child with clothing that’s warm enough to protect them from inclement weather

Before you can be convicted of child neglect, the prosecution first must prove that you were in a position to provide the child with care. With cases involving custodial guardians, that’s easy. It becomes a bit more difficult if the case involves babysitters, teachers, and non-custodial parents. It’s important to note that child neglect cases can involve a child that is only in a person’s care for a short period of time.

Additional things the prosecution must prove before they can secure a conviction in a child neglect case is:

  • That the neglect was willful and that there was no reasonable need for the child to have been neglected
  • That the individual knew that they were failing to provide the child with basic necessities

Child neglect is one of California’s wobbler crimes. It appears that the bulk of people who are convicted of child neglect in the case are ultimately convicted of misdemeanor child neglect which carries a maximum sentence of a year in jail and/or a $2,000 fine. Depending on the circumstances surrounding the child neglect case, it’s possible that the prosecution will pursue a felony child neglect conviction. The maximum sentence is a year plus a day in prison and/or a $2,000 fine.

A child neglect conviction can result in a parent losing custodial rights to their child. Sometimes the loss is permanent and in other cases the loss of custody is temporary. 

It’s important to note that a case that involves child neglect involves situations that involve the child’s right to basic life needs. These cases are often connected to but don’t always involve domestic violence, bullying, physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, etc.