Child Abuse vs. Child Endangerment

Child scared sitting in the corner

Child Endangerment and Child Abuse are terms that are commonly confused among many Americans. Every year, there are several child endangerment and abuse reports to Child Protective Services, involving over six million American children. But these numbers are grossly misreported.

The long-term fiscal and human consequences of child endangerment and abuse conviction have rippling effects for both the children and the defendant. The best way to counter child abuse or child endangerment charges is to know what each means and how the courts handle such cases.

Child Endangerment vs. Child Abuse: What is the difference?

The most straightforward way to understand the difference between child endangerment and child abuse is to look at what the law says about each.

Child Abuse

In California, Section 273d(a) of the Penal Code mentions some child abuse laws. The definition is broad and can include any form of cruelty on a child, such as sexual assault, mental abuse, physical abuse, neglect, and exploitation. The physical abuse charges mostly pertain to battery and assault. According to child abuse laws, certain adults with access to children like doctors and teachers must report any abuse signs.

The child abuse statute of California forbids the physical abuse of a minor. You are probably wondering if spanking counts as physical abuse. To answer your question: It is not illegal for guardians to give children the occasional spank as long as they do it for disciplinary reasons. Guardians or parents technically have the freedom to discipline their kids by spanking them. However, a family member, parent, caregiver, or step-parent should not injure the kid. Causing any injury can be the basis for child abuse charges. 

Child Endangerment

Child Endangerment, on the other hand, deals with the security around the child. An adult caring for a kid is legally obligated to ensure the minor is NOT exposed to harmful situations. When they fail to protect a minor sufficiently, the prosecution may file child endangerment charges.

Child endangerment needs no physical injury and forbids a much more comprehensive type of behavior. Here are some of the instances where one might be guilty of child endangerment:

  • If you willfully inflict unjustifiable mental suffering or physical pain on a child
  • If you intentionally cause or permit a child to suffer unjustifiable mental anguish or physical pain
  • If you cause or obtain a child in your custody or care to be injured
  • If you cause or permit a child in your custody to be exposed to a dangerous situation or criminally negligent

In cases where significant bodily harm is involved, child endangerment becomes a felony and count as a strike according to California’s three-strike law sentencing scheme. You do not even have to be the person who caused the injury. Whether you acted criminally or willfully are elements you should discuss with your lawyer to determine if your behavior is criminal.

Beware of maliciously false accusations!

Mostly, child endangerment and child abuse accusations come up during breakups and divorces. Unfortunately, ex-partners and spouses can falsely accuse you of child endangerment or child abuse out of anger to ensure you don’t get visitation or custody rights. Angry teens and young minors are sometimes complicit in such cases and trained to make the accusations.

Here is a scenario where this could happen: You went swimming with your kids and took a cute picture of them naked playing by the pool. You didn’t have any ill intent when taking the photos. Such images can be used against you by a malicious partner to accuse you of child molestation or child pornography. Child endangerment and child abuse charges are alternative charges. A seasoned child abuse and child endangerment lawyer can help you in such a case.

What are the penalties for child endangerment?

Child endangerment and child abuse is a wobbler offense. This means the prosecution may decide to pursue a felony or misdemeanor conviction, depending on the charges’ severity. The difference between a felony and a misdemeanor offense often depends on whether a minor was exposed to significant danger or left in a particularly dangerous circumstance. Below are some of the penalties:

  • Prison or jail: Someone convicted of a misdemeanor child abuse or child endangerment offense mostly faces up to a year in jail. If it’s a felony conviction, the penalties are more serious, and you risk 2-6 years of prison time.
  • Probation: A court can order a person convicted of child abuse or child endangerment to serve a probation sentence. Typically, probation will last at least one year. The convicted individual must regularly report to the assigned probation officer and participate in some family counseling programs. A person is also required to not commit any other crime during probation. One risks being sent to jail if he or she violates the probation terms.
  • Fines: Child abuse or endangerment can attract a fine amounting to $1,000, while felony convictions can result in $10,000.
  • Parental rights: If you’re found guilty of child abuse or child endangerment, a court can take away your parental rights. In this case, either the other parent gets sole parental rights, or if you were the only parent, the court would appoint a new guardian for the minor. A child might be placed in a state child services agency until a new guardian is available.

Final thoughts

Did you know that CPS investigates over 3 million child abuse reports made in the USA every year? Unfortunately, some of these reports are undeserved, which means parents are getting separated from their children because of false allegations. If you feel you’ve been the target of a false accusation or wrongful conviction, please contact us today. To get started, call Don Hammond now at 323-529-3660 for a free consultation.

The Criminal Defense Hero Attorney Don Hammond


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