How far can I get from my kids before it becomes child neglect?

Recently, someone wrote to advice columnist “Ask Amy” about the advisability of visiting neighbors in her small apartment building while leaving her infant son asleep at home – bringing the monitor with, of course. (You can read the original here - it’s the second question, about 3/4 of the way down the page.) Amy responded that it was a bad idea, and in a follow-up letter, someone from CPS wrote in with a list of reasons why it was a bad idea, not the least of which is that such behavior is illegal, constituting “child neglect.”

There’s a Great Debate in here as well, but for now I’d like to discuss the factual, legal answer: how far can I get from my sleeping child before it becomes child neglect? Is it strictly distance? Is it defined by the limits of your house? Your property line? Can I sit on my front porch and have a a smoke? Can I go onto my back deck? Can I pick weeds in my yard? I live in an area with small houses on small lots – sitting on my neighbor’s porch I am less than 30 feet from my child’s crib. Just a few miles away in Potomac, Maryland, or McLean, Virginia, people live in 12,000 square foot mansions where they can be 2 stories and 100 feet from the nursery while still being in the same house. Is one OK and the other not?

Great Q, but I don’t think ‘they’ can give you a straight answer, except that if ‘they’ catch you not in physical contact with your offspring 24/7, you are in deep (brown smelly stuff).

Cite, please?

** Emilio Lizard**, you bring up some interesting points in your last paragraph. I’d like to know the parameters of these laws too.

In my limited experience child neglect can be a tricky thing. A friend of mine rented out her basement suit to a couple with an infant. One day she saw the parents drive away and a little while latter the baby started to cry, it wailed for long enough for my friend to realize that there was no one watching it. She called the police and the only thing they could tell her was not to go downstairs. If the baby was crying it was not in immediate danger and if she went down to check on it the parents could claim that someone was watching the child. Child services were called and I don’t know what happened to the child from there.

I personally know of two more incidences where a parent has left a child with a baby-sitter telling them they would be back that night and then left town. They came back months later and wanted the child back. Because they had arranged for someone to look after the child there was no legal way to not give the kid back.

So I guess my point is that the law (depending on where you are of course, my examples happened in BC and Alberta) can sometimes seem too lenient.

Heck with a small investment tacked onto what many moderately saavy pc users already have around the house you could we watching live audio and video of your kid in the crib via laptop and wireless network.

If you can do that, hell you could almost run errands. Live video and a DSL enabled PDA anyone…

Not good in the event of fire and such but prolly fine for a chat with a neighbor.

You would think that timeframe would be relevant. Leaving a child with a babysittter for several months with no apparent arrangements for helping care for the child would sound fishy to me.

Then again $3/hour for a babysitter x 24 hours x 3 months…that will be $6,480 please :smiley:

I see what you are getting at but I don’t think you can use computer program If/Then logic to determine when it is neglect or not. That is where humans come into play. The police and social services would evaluate the case based on their own judgement and then a judge would also use human judgement to decide the consequences.

That is really the only thing that can be done in this case. We don’t want some bad parents to get away on a technicality and other good ones to get busted for something like running across the street to help a neighbor having a heart attack.

Worst summer job EVER!

I don’t know legally but I think relatively it comes down to “if something happens”. If something happens and they can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you were neglect of your child you are toast. EG if you live in an apartment complex or town home structure and think brining a baby monitor around while you get drunk is ok when something happens you would be sadly mistaken (analogy not pointing possible fingers).

I used to work for CPS. In my state, the laws themselves are written very generally. What determinines if there is neglect is the whole situation, not property lines or a certain distance.
Also, in my state a determinination that there is neglect, or even a court finding of neglect doesn’t necessarily mean the children are removed either permanently or temporarily.

I have successfully prosecuted parents for child abandonment who left children in care of relatives when they left for a long period of time (days) without plans to return or notice of their location. So it can be done.

In my mind, the issue is being close enough to respond to an emergency. In the OP, if the parents were in the same apartment building and could be by their child side in a moment or two and could use technology to monitor the kid, I probably would not charge neglect.

Isnt this overkill? The child is looked after and it is assumed that the parents are coming back within a week or two (not just gone forever) so what is the damage? I was often dumped at my grandmothers by my parents for various reasons. Is it not possible to transfer ones parenting duties in law to another responsible adult for a temporary period of time?

I don’t think you’ll find a pat answer to this question because it all depends on individual circumstances. You can be in the same room with an infant, but if you’re running heroin into your arm, you can be charged with neglect. I used to sit out on the stoop or go to the neighbor’s across the hall and Kid Kalhoun would be sleeping in his crib. The distance wasn’t more than 20 feet, the doors were open and there was no way it could be interpreted as neglect. Each case is different.

I think it’s the “without plans to return” part that is key.

The police. Told her. To make sure. To keep the child neglected.


I just don’t know what to say. :smack:


In some cases it would be overkill, but in the two cases where I’ve done it the judge, jury, Department of Family Services, etc. didn’t think it was overkill. In both cases, the parents left the kid with no (revealed) plans to come back except “I’ll come back someday after I get my Meth kick over with.” The grandparents had no way of supporting the kids, no medical authorization for their care (one was seriously ill), and no way to help the kids find out where mom went in the middle of the night.

Also, in both cases the children were not taken out of the grandparent’s home, nor were the parent’s parental rights terminated. The action in juvenile court (which is a civil proceeding - rather than criminal) allowed the kids to be legally placed with grandma, with the state paying for medical and other care, while mom was found and completed rehab.

Thanks for posting that–you’re helping restore my faith in the system. You solved the problem rather than just trying to figure out “who to punish.”


Unfortunately, that is the exception rather than the rule.

There are so many bad parents that any parent that had an accident with their child will be held in the same contempt and with the same disregard of common sense as the worst crack head parent around.

There are not enough workers for the amount of problems and a law abiding parent is much easier to find and is usually too stupid to get a good lawyer so they usually burn them as it makes the stats look good.

Examples please?


They are all personal observations.

I have asked but never found any worker in the field that would, to my face, flat out say that they got it right over 50% of the time, and that would say that they put as much time and effort into each, heck, any one case as it really needed.

Too big a problem and too few workers.


Wanna see how the people and the system really work? Try giving them the problem child. They are real good about seeing the bad parent. They run in terror if they have to actually deal with a real problem child. Don’t want no part of that responsibility, just wanna tell the parent how they should do it.

I am not saying it is all bad or they are all bad. I am saying that this is not one of mankind’s shinning success stories.