It seems as if there is a new case of child abuse every day on the news. Some of the cases we hear can bring us to our knees. We often find ourselves trying to figure out how and why something so horrid can occur to any human being, much less an innocent child. While we don’t have all the answers on how and why these things occur, we can tell you about Arkansas law when it comes to child abuse.
Criminal law considers child abuse an act (or failure to act) that results in serious harm to a child’s health and welfare (or risk thereof), is committed against a child under the age of 18 and the person committing the abuse is a parent or caregiver who is responsible for that child’s welfare. Arkansas law defines the law a bit more detailed in that it includes abandonment, extreme and repeated cruelty; intentional, negligence, unjustifiable conduct constituting physical, psychological, or sexual abuse; conduct creating threat of death or permanent impairment; intentionally and without justification disciplining a child by striking on the face or striking with a closed fist, or shaking a child. Remember, child abuse doesn’t have to be extreme for a parent to lose visitation or custody rights. Generally, the courts considered any activity or behavior by a parent that threatens a child’s physical or emotional well-being as being abuse. Although parental rights are fundamental and constitutionally protected, a child’s best interest and safety will prevail in every custody decision.
One hurdle faced by states and their fight to stop child abuse is the difficulty of uncovering it. That’s why the statute requires any person with knowledge of abuse to be a mandatory reporter. Failure to report known cases of child abuse, or false reporting, can be charged as a Class C misdemeanor. The penalty is that the mandated reporter is civilly liable for all damages proximately caused by the failure to report. It is punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a fine up to $500. A few professionals specifically mandated to report abuse include, but are not limited to, dentists and dental hygienists, licensed nurses, physicians, attorneys ad litem, and clergy members. To see a complete list of mandated reports, go to the www.childwelfare.gov publication. A mandated report who wishes to remain anonymous can make a report through the toll-free Child Abuse Hotline telephone system. The disclosure of the reporter identity will not be disclosed unless a court determines that the reporter knowingly made a false report. The charge for a false notification is a Class A misdemeanor, which is the most serious type of misdemeanor in Arkansas punishable by up to one year in jail and a fine up to $2,500.
Now don’t confuse a mandated reporter as the only ones able to report child abuse, everyone is permitted and encouraged to report child abuse. A person who reports child abuse voluntarily is known as a permissive reporter. Voluntary or permissive reporters also receive immunity from liability for a good faith report of suspected child abuse. All reports should be made to the Department of Human Services.
If you are accusing your spouse or ex-spouse of child abuse, you will need more than just circumstantial evidence. Relatives, neighbors, healthcare providers and others who have witnessed abusive acts may testify during a custody hearing. Medical records from your child’s doctors, including therapists, may be used at the trial. If child abuse is proven, the judge may terminate the abusive parent’s rights in serious cases. In less severe cases, a judge may restrict the abusive parent’s relationship with the child. The judge could impose restrictions such as reducing a parent’s visitation hours, eliminating overnight visits and requiring supervised visitation with a third party.
If you suspect child abuse on any child, contact the Aransas DHS Child Abuse Hotline at 800.843.6349. If you suspect your ex is abusing your child, contact Kevin Hickey Law Partners and we will help you gather the evidence needed to prove that he or she is abusing your child.