For those with children, there is a legal responsibility to ensure those children do not come into harm. This includes not just parents but guardians and those who are entrusted with the care of children. When a person fails to protect a child, they may face a criminal charge of Endangering the Welfare of a Child.
Endangering the Welfare of a Child
According to Penal Law § 260.10, a person is guilty of endangering the welfare of a child when he or she:
- knowingly acts in a manner likely to be injurious to the physical, mental, or moral welfare of a child aged 16 or younger
- directs or authorizes a child aged 16 or younger to engage in an occupation involving a substantial risk of danger to the child’s health
- fails or refuses to exercise reasonable diligence in the control of a child aged 17 or younger to prevent the child from becoming an abused child, a neglected child, a juvenile delinquent or a person in need of supervision (as defined by the Family Court Act)
Endangering the welfare of a child is a class A misdemeanor. Specifically, it can be punished by up to 364 days in jail. Alternatively, a conviction can result in three years of probation supervision or up to a one-year Conditional Discharge. There are fines and mandatory surcharges as well.
In some cases, a defendant may also be charged with related charges such as:
- Abandonment of a child (Penal Law § 260.00)
- Endangering the welfare of an incompetent or physically disabled person (Penal Law § 260.24, 260.25, 260.32, or 260.34)
- Unlawfully dealing with a child (Penal Law § 260.20 or 260.21)
This charge can also lead to an investigation by Child Protective Services. Moreover, it can result in abuse or neglect proceedings in family court.
Examples of Endangering Cases
There are a number of ways a person can be charged with endangering. For example, this could include:
- Providing the child with alcohol or drugs
- Driving a vehicle while intoxicated or impaired with the child in the car
- Abusing a spouse in the presence of the child
- Failing to provide food, shelter, or medical care to the child
- Using drugs in the presence of the child
In one recent case, a woman in Ulster County was charged with this offense. Allegedly, the woman allowed her 10-year-old son to get a tattoo. According to the police chief, the tattoo was of the boy’s name in full-size block letters on the boy’s forearm. The situation came to the attention to the school’s nurse when the boy asked the nurse to apply Vaseline to the fresh tattoo.
Defenses to Endangering Charges
There are several defenses to an endangering charge. If the parent engages in conduct with the intent of the child being safe and cared for, but the child is somehow injured or neglected as a result of that conduct, this would not constitute a crime. The intent of the parent matters.
As another example, imagine a babysitter who is watching a child. During their supervision, the babysitter has an emergency and cannot continue to watch the child. As such, the babysitter leaves the child with another adult and promptly informs the parent of the child as such. In this case, the babysitter would not be endangering the child.
There are also circumstances in which parents cannot be charged based on their religious beliefs. For example, Christian Scientists oppose certain medical interventions. If their child is ill and they refuse treatment from a medical doctor, they may be able to demonstrate that their religion uses prayer as the principal treatment for illness. In this case, they may be able to negate a claim of child endangerment.
- New York Penal Law § 260.10, Endangering the Welfare of a Child. Available at: https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/laws/PEN/260.10 (last accessed Oct. 13, 2022).
- gov, Child Protective Proceedings (Abused or Neglected Children). Available at: https://ww2.nycourts.gov/COURTS/nyc/family/faqs_abusedchildren.shtml (last accessed Oct. 13, 2022).
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