Thank you to the State Bar of California hich produced the “Kids and the Law” of which this is an extract. For the entire booklet go to: Children’s law

By one estimate, some 870,000 children are abused or neglected nationwide each year. Roughly 1,500 a year die at the hands of their abusers. And most of the victims are under age 4. But child abuse victims can be any age, come from any ethnic background and be born into poverty or into wealth. Such victims do not fit into a particular profile.

It is against the law for anyone to abuse a child—physically, sexually (see Sex and Kids) or emotionally—or to endanger any child by putting the youngster in harm’s way. Nor is it legal to intentionally neglect a child who is in your care—to fail to adequately feed, clothe or supervise the child or to supply medical care. (PC §§ 270 et seq, 11164-11165.6)

Those who break these laws, depending on the circumstances, could face years in prison as a consequence. In addition, if one parent fails to protect his or her child from another parent or partner who is abusive, he or she could be found criminally liable as well.

What should I do if I suspect a child is being abused or neglected?

Call your local Child Protective Services hotline (every county has one) or contact the local police. The youngster could be at great risk. And unless it can be proven that you knowingly filed a false report, you cannot be held liable if you are wrong. 

Will the alleged abuser find out that I filed a report?

It depends. You can remain anonymous unless you are a mandated reporter.

What is a mandated reporter?

Because abused and neglected children are at such great risk, individuals in certain professions are required by law to report suspected abuse. The list of so-called mandated reporters generally includes teachers, school personnel, doctors, nurses, police officers and firefighters, as well as certain other professionals who regularly come in contact with youngsters. Mandated reporters must notify authorities immediately and file a written report as well within 36 hours. (PC §§ 11165.7 - 11174.3)

What is “Shaken Baby Syndrome”?

It is a life-threatening condition that can develop when someone shakes a baby. The sudden shaking motion slams the youngster’s brain into his or her skull. One in four children die as a consequence. The resulting trauma can also lead to permanent brain damage, blindness or severe motor dysfunction. It can happen when a frustrated parent or caregiver simply shakes a child to stop a bout of crying. And babies are not the only ones at risk; severe shaking can cause head trauma in children up to age 5. Pending legislation proposed in 2007 would make it specifically illegal for anyone to shake a child under age 3. Experts suggest that overstressed parents or caregivers seek help. Parents, concerned adults and children alike can visit www.childhelp.org or call 1-800-4-A-CHILD (422-4453) for help.

California law does not specify any particular age. Every situation—and every child—is different. It could depend on various factors: the child’s level of maturity and judgment, the time of day, the safety of the neighborhood and the proximity of another responsible adult who could be available in an emergency. The legal question would be whether or not the child would be put at risk if he or she were left alone—whether you could be endangering or neglecting the child.

There are, however, other situations in which it is against the law to leave a child of a certain age alone. For example, in certain circumstances, children under 7 cannot be left alone in a car (see Laws that Young Drivers Should Know on the previous page).

 This information is provided for educational purposes only. For more information about divorce and family law in Los Angeles  please visit www.la-familylaw.com