This time of year, unfortunately, it is not unusual to hear of a child being left in a hot car. One recent incident that comes to mind occurred just last month when a Missouri woman and her friend allegedly left a child in a hot car to shop at a Pea Ridge Walmart that she claims she forgot about. This type of incident seems to clearly define child endangerment, but what about other things that are considered to be child endangerment. In Arkansas and most other states, they range from exposure to illegal drugs in certain environments to leaving a child unattended. Child endangerment laws were created to protect the mental and physical well-being of minors from individuals legally responsible for their care. The penalties also vary from felonies to misdemeanors. Some examples of child endangerment are:
- Driving while intoxicated with a child in the vehicle
- Leaving a child alone and unsupervised with access to dangerous weapons
- Leaving a child unattended in an unsafe area or vehicle
- Hiring or leaving a child with a person that has a known history of sexual offenses to supervise a child
- Leaving another young child unsupervised to care for a young child
- Providing drugs or alcohol to an underage driver
- Failing to report suspected child abuse (check out our past blog about who is considered a mandatory reporter and who is considered a permissive reporter).
Child endangerment charges depend upon the specific circumstances distinguished by the severity of whether the responsible adult created an environment that poses a risk, knowingly behaved in a way to cause harm or injury and if his or her behavior led to harm or injury.
- Endangering the Welfare of a Minor in the First Degree is a Class D felony. This penalty applies to a parent, guardian or other person legally responsible for maintaining the care of a child. Crimes that fall in this category are those that create an environment that poses a risk of serious injury or death to the minor or if the adult deserts the child under the age of ten in that type of environment.
- Endangering the Welfare of a Minor in the Second Degree is a Class A Misdemeanor. The responsible adult knowingly behaves in a way that causes harm or serious injury to a minor’s physical or mental well-being. Harm or injury is considered to be a lingering disfigurement, sustained damage to a vital organ or body part or a diminished mental or physical capacity.
- Endangering the Welfare of a Minor in the Third Degree is a Class B misdemeanor. The responsible adult’s behavior leads to the harm or injury of a minor’s physical and mental welfare. Harm or injury are the same as above.
Additionally, the Arkansas Child Maltreatment Act was enacted to protect minors from exposure to illegal drugs. In particular, it targets those who attempt to sell or give drugs to minors, sell drugs near schools, skate parks or any other area where minors are known to gather. The act also makes it illegal to manufacture drugs in the presence of minors. In addition to penalties for narcotics possession or distribution, the Child Maltreatment Act can add an additional 10 years to any sentence.
If you suspect a person is endangering a child, it is important to report it to the appropriate authorities. A publication regarding law enforcement’s response to child abuse by the U.S. Department of Justice appropriately stated that child abuse is a community problem because no single agency has all the necessary resources to intervene effectively in child abuse cases. The publication went on to state that unfortunately, children are the perfect victims and the most difficult for law enforcement to investigate. On the other side of the coin, it is a crime to make false allegations of child abuse/maltreatment under Arkansas Code § 12-18-203. The first offense for making a false report is a Class A misdemeanor and any made thereafter are Class D felonies.
We have many clients come to us suspecting an ex or soon-to-be-ex of child abuse/maltreatment, but aren’t sure what to do. Our first advice is to always contact the appropriate authorities and then we will start building an appropriate case against the other parent to change custody and/or visitation agreements. Don’t hesitate another day, your child’s well-being depends on you.