Child abuse and neglect remains a significant problem in the state of Oklahoma. In any given year, several thousand substantiated cases of such abuse and neglect occur, and it is generally accepted that many actual but unsubstantiated incidents occur on top of the reported data.
From the perspective of defending clients against state action, considerations of child abuse and neglect may be broken down into two areas: what constitutes child abuse and neglect, and who may be held accountable for it. This post will provide an overview of each of these two areas.
Oklahoma law defines child abuse as harm or threatened harm to the health or safety of a child. This includes, but is not restricted to, neglect, physical or mental injuries that are not the result of an accident, and sexual abuse. The law further defines “neglect” as failing to provide a child with adequate food, clothing, shelter, medical care and supervision.
According to the most recent data available for fiscal year 2013, neglect comprises about two thirds of substantiated instances of child abuse and neglect with abuse and sexual abuse comprising the remainder. The three most common forms of neglect are, in order, exposure to domestic violence, failure to protect the child and exposing the child to threat of harm.
Most of the time the accused perpetrators are the mother, father or both. The occurrence of abuse or neglect by someone other than a family member (“family member” including grandparents and step parents) is only about one in five of substantiated cases.
What are the penalties?
There are two types of people who can be subject to state sanctions in connection with child abuse and neglect: the accused perpetrators themselves, and those who are aware of the problem but who fail to report it.
Felony liability, punishable depending upon the circumstances by imprisonment (for lesser cases in a county jail for up to one year, for serious cases in a state penitentiary for up to life) and finds of $500-$5000.
Potential liability for costs in connection with court-appointed legal counsel for the child, as well as costs for medical examinations and psychological examinations.
Loss of custody of the child.
Every individual who has reason to believe that a child is being abused or neglected has a legal duty to report to the Oklahoma Department of human services. Failure to report child abuse and neglect by a person obligated to do so is a misdemeanor.
Anyone who has been accused of child abuse or neglect, or of failing to report the same, should seek assistance from Oklahoma criminal defense lawyers as soon as possible. Not all claimed instances of abuse or neglect are true, and there may be alternative explanations to apparent cases of neglect or abuse that have innocent origins. Instances of false reporting are common enough that Oklahoma law includes a provision making it punishable. The Hunsucker Legal Group will be able to assist you if you have been unjustly accused.