Children are said to be our most valuable resource, but they are an intensely vulnerable population. Oklahoma has struggled with protecting this resource in recent years, combining high rates of child abuse with high-profile failures of the state Department of Human Services. Oklahoma DHS reports 6,300 substantiated cases of child abuse and neglect in 2013, involving 11,418 children. However, these are only the cases DHS has substantiated—only a tiny percentage of the more than 70,000 reported cases involving 128,024 children. This means that roughly 90 percent of child maltreatment claims are “unsubstantiated,” whether through a failure of Child Protective Services (CPS) to adequately investigate reports, through well-meaning individuals reporting acts that are not abusive, through false allegations, or a combination of the above.
Being accused of child abuse can have an immediately devastating impact on a family. Children are removed from the home and taken into DHS custody. Parents are arrested and taken to jail. While there are certainly parents who lash out in violence against children as a means of control, many parents accused of child abuse are simply overwhelmed, without support systems to help them raise their children, and without resources to effectively manage anger and frustration. This is particularly true in the case of Shaken Baby Syndrome, which can cause extensive brain damage and may be fatal. Often, these parents are not “mean,” they are unprepared and ill-equipped to handle the challenges of parenting.
However, prosecutors do not look at a person’s background when deciding to file child abuse or child neglect charges. The state is unconcerned with getting an abusive parent the help he or she needs to manage anger and frustration or to discipline without violence. Rather, it is focused on punishing those who harm children, regardless of motive or mitigating circumstances. Penalties for child abuse or enabling child abuse are severe. If you are accused of using violence against a child, hire an attorney at once. No matter what police or DHS workers try to tell you, you do not have to speak with them without a lawyer. Call (405) 608-4990 for a free consultation with an attorney experienced at handling tough child abuse cases.
In Oklahoma, committing child abuse and allowing child abuse to occur are considered equally egregious offenses. Whether an abuser beats a child, or whether a parent allows their child to be around an abuser, the penalties are the same.
Oklahoma defines and penalizes child abuse and related crimes against children in 21 O.S. 843.5. Under the state’s child abuse statute, any person who “willfully and maliciously” abuses, injures, tortures, or maims a child under 18 is guilty of a felony punishable by a maximum of life in prison.
Likewise, enabling child abuse carries a maximum of life in prison, even if the defendant never physically harmed the child himself or herself. Enabling child abuse is defined by statute as “causing, procuring or permitting of a willful or malicious act of child abuse.” This includes allowing a person to care for the child whom the defendant knows or should reasonably know is likely to abuse the child.
Certain individuals have a legal duty to report suspected child abuse. Many others take it upon themselves to report child abuse. However, well-meaning individuals may attempt to protect a child by reporting acts that are not abuse, but rather a form of discipline the witness does not endorse. While some people consider spanking to be child abuse, state law specifically excludes reasonable spanking as a form of abuse. In 10A O.S. 1-1-105, the Oklahoma Children and Juvenile Code states, “[N]othing contained in this act shall prohibit any parent from using ordinary force as a means of discipline including, but not limited to, spanking, switching, or paddling.”
It is important to note, however, that the statute says “ordinary force” is appropriate for discipline. However, if the act injures the child, the force is considered to be excessive and the parent will likely be charged with child abuse.
Parents have the responsibility to provide for their children’s physical and emotional needs. Failing to meet these needs is not simply considered negligent parenting, it is considered criminal. There are several acts or omissions that the state defines as neglect in the Oklahoma Children and Juvenile Code:
The Children’s Code also defines “heinous and shocking neglect” as chronic neglect; neglect resulting in failure to thrive; neglect resulting in death or near death; neglect leading to serious physical harm, sexual abuse, or sexual exploitation; or neglect causing imminent risk of harm.
In the eyes of the law, failing to protect and care for a child is just as serious as actively inflicting harm. Child neglect and enabling child neglect are punishable by a maximum of life in prison.
Child abuse and neglect charges can arise from a number of situations, including false accusations, misunderstandings, poor anger management, and inadequate parenting skills. To successfully defend against child abuse charges, an attorney must carefully look at all the factors that led to the charge, exploring every avenue for defense and recovery. To learn more, contact Law Firm of Oklahoma today.