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When is a Finding of Emotional Neglect Proper or Not?

January 6, 2018

Legal matters involving children are always complex. When CPS becomes involved, though, they can seem incredibly dire. When you hear phrases like emotional neglect being bandied about, it’s important to know exactly what is being discussed. While emotional neglect can be hard to prove, a successful case can play a huge role in whether or not a parent retains custody. Understanding whether or not a finding of emotional neglect is proper requires first understanding a bit more about how the finding is made in the first place.

New York State and Neglect

It’s often best to start with the nature of the charge. In New York, neglected children are defined as those who have not had their condition(be they physical, mental, or emotional) negatively impacted by the action or inaction of a parent or guardian. A parent is expected to meet a minimum level of care, which involves providing basic survival necessities, medical care, and providing the supervision necessary to reasonably avoid harm or other risks whenever possible. Parents who fail to live up to this standard and fail to prevent emotional/psychological harm can be found to have been emotionally neglectful.

The Injury

For any finding of neglect to occur, one must first start by establishing an injury. While emotional neglect’s injuries might be harder to prove than those caused by physical neglect, they must still have been shown to occur. CPS must show that the child has come to some kind of quantifiable harm due to the neglect of his or her guardians. This can be difficult to prove, especially if the child’s injuries are not reported by a professional. For any case to move forward, this injury absolutely must be established in a concrete way.

Who is Responsible?

Once the injury has been established, it becomes a matter of figuring out who is at fault. This tends to bring one back to a more typical neglect analysis – did the parent act in a neglectful way and, if so, was that the cause of the harm? When talking about emotional neglect, it’s usually the proximate cause of the problematic behaviors and/or injuries that must be seen. A parent will usually be seen as emotionally neglectful if he or she was the cause of the injury or simply failed to act in a reasonable manner to stop the injury from occurring.

The Two Prong Test

With those two factors in mind, it is typical to look at the state of New York’s attempts to find emotional neglect as a two-prong process. The state will seek to show that the child is in actual or imminent danger and that the danger itself is caused by the neglect of the parent. It’s a test that requires both parts to be satisfied to work – if only one of the factors is satisfied, it won’t be a proper finding emotional neglect.

The first prong is the easiest to satisfy in most cases. This helps to ensure that the case for emotional neglect isn’t brought up due to simple speculation. If the child is actually in danger, the case can move forward. If the child’s behaviors are likely to cause danger soon, the case can also move forward. If the behaviors and/or injury simply seem to be problematic and possible to cause problems in the distant future, though, the state does not have grounds to push forward with a case of emotional neglect. It might seem like a small difference, but it is quite important in the law.

More difficult is the relationship between that danger and the actions of the parents. As discussed above, there must be a connection between the way a parent has acted and the danger the child is in. The court has typically found that emotional neglect is a pattern, not a one-time occurrence. As such, a parent can act in a manner that would otherwise be considered neglectful, but CPS will not become involved until that pattern has been established. It can take quite a bit of effort to prove that any actions by the parent rise to the level of actually putting a child in danger.

Emotional neglect is a very serious issue and one which CPS does not take lightly. Actually proving that it has occurred, though, is more difficult than most imagine. There must be a real injury, a real chance of danger, and a connection to the actions (or inaction) of the parent for the finding to be proper. If you are involved in a case in which emotional neglect is being discussed, it is important that you speak with an attorney. This type of situation is far too complex to even consider without the help of a trained professional.

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