Child Neglect

Crimes involving children are taken seriously by the state. If any kind of abuse is suspected and reported, it would prompt an investigation. Allegations for child neglect fall under the umbrella of abuse and should not be ignored.

The punishments for this offense can include jail time and steep fines. The consequences can have a deeper impact on your family and your future. When facing such accusations, it’s advisable to find a criminal defense lawyer who is familiar with such cases.

For more insight into this law and similar statutes, let’s take a look at how California outlines the details.

Defining Child Neglect

California defines child neglect under Penal Code 270, which states this crime is committed when:

  • A parent(s),

Under this law, parents are considered those who have legal custody or guardianship of the minor(s).

This includes biological parents, adults who have assumed parental responsibilities and hold themselves up as such, and adoptive parents.

  • Willfully fails to provide the basic physical necessities,

Acting willfully means to act purposely.

The physical necessities include adequate clothing, food, medical or remedial care, and shelter.

Remedial care is explained as help from an official religion. It means the care must come from a recognized church or religious denomination. It covers those parents who believe in prayer-based treatment for medical ailments. The prayer treatment method must be implemented by a recognized practitioner.

  • For their minor child,

Any persons under the age of 18 are considered minors.

  • Without a lawful explanation.

Such as the court already declaring the child as abandoned, or another individual has taken up the mantle of parenthood, assuming legal responsibility for the minor, or the parent or legal guardian is not able to earn sufficient income to provide the minor with the physical necessities.

It’s also important to note, acting willfully or without a lawful explanation does not mean the same thing as acting recklessly or acting with ordinary or criminal negligence. That said, acting recklessly or with any type of negligence can still result in legal charges for child neglect, endangerment, abuse, or other similar offenses.

Ordinary or civil negligence is when an individual’s carelessness results in another person’s injury.

Criminal or gross negligence means the individual acted with extreme recklessness which increased the chances for great bodily injury or death, and they acted with indifference for anyone else’s safety or with a total disregard for human life.

Failure to provide the necessities for your child due to abandoning/disserting them is considered unlawful behavior. It is also known as child abandonment and can be charged under PC 270, child neglect and/or PC 273(a), child endangerment.

Associated Offenses

There are charges that can be filed in addition to child neglect and the following are statutes that are closely related to it.

  • California Penal Code 273(d) – Child Abuse;

Child abuse is also referred to as corporal injury on a minor. It states it is a crime if you inflict physical injury or cruel punishments on a child.

  • California Penal Code 270.1(a) – Failure to enforce a child’s school attendance;

A parent or legal guardian is responsible for reasonable supervision of making sure their minor (6 years old or older and in kindergarten through eighth grade) attends school on a regular basis. Failure to supervise their child’s school attendance could result in a violation of California’s truancy laws.

  • California Penal Code 273(a) – Child Endangerment;

Also referred to as child abuse, child endangerment means leaving or placing a minor in a situation in which their health and/or life could be compromised. 

  • California Penal Code 278.5 – Deprivation of Custody;

The full-time legal guardian of a minor is the parent who has full custody of their child. It is against the law when a non-custodial co-parent deprives the custodial parent of seeing their child OR when the custodial parent prevents the non-custodial co-parent from their visitation rights to see their child.

  • California Penal Code 278 – Child Abduction;

This crime is committed when you steal a child from their parent or legal guardian.

What Must The Prosecution Do

There are a set of facts the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt before they can get a conviction. These facts are referred to as the elements of the crime, which are:

Elements/Facts of the Crime

You are the parent or legal guardian of a minor, and you willfully failed to provide necessities for your minor, and you had no lawful excuse to do so.

With that said, if only some of the physical necessities were met, but not all were provided, the prosecution could technically file charges for child neglect. For instance, if the parent only provided clothing, but failed to provide a reasonable amount of food, shelter, or necessary medical care for their minor child they could still face charges under PC 270.

Who Can Be Charged?

To illustrate who can be charged with PC 270, child neglect, take a look at the examples below.

Example 1:

Shanna and James had just turned twenty years old and found out they were pregnant. Not happy with the news and not looking forward to the responsibilities parenthood entails, they chose to ignore the pregnancy test results.

The couple loved to go clubbing and continued this behavior. Shanna continued to drink alcoholic beverages and smoke cigarettes with James throughout the whole pregnancy. The baby was born with fetal alcohol syndrome and the doctors reported Shanna to child protective services.

Not providing proper medical care during pregnancy would still be considered child neglect under PC 270. Shanna would face charges for child neglect and child endangerment, PC 273(a). James would be facing the same offenses, not only because he is the biological father and knew it, but he also contributed to the mother’s endangerment of the baby during pregnancy.

Example 2:

Cassidy is in the second grade. She always goes to school with shower slippers and wears the same outfits every week. She is always one of the first children to line up at lunchtime, eager to eat her meal. When the teacher asked her if she was able to eat breakfast or dinner at home, Cassidy said no. The teacher reported Cassidy’s parents for failure to provide adequate food for their child.

Tammi and Phil, her parents, claimed they were providing the necessities, but lacked the income to afford an adequate food budget. Upon closer inspection of their home, both parents enjoyed beer more than nutritious food. The refrigerator was full of alcoholic beverages. They also had a 4K plasma TV in their living room.

Spending funds on non-essentials (alcoholic beverages) and luxury items (4K TV) instead of providing the necessities for one’s child still falls under child neglect. Tammi and Phil would be guilty of PC 270 for failure to provide sustenance for their daughter.

Example 3:

Arnie and Mackenzie have a one night stand, resulting in Mackenzie getting pregnant. Needing help, she writes to Arnie, letting him know he is the father. Arnie does not believe her and chooses not to provide support during the pregnancy. When she continues to write, email, and text him, he orders a paternity test after the baby is born. The DNA test results reveal that he is the father, but Arnie continues to ignore his responsibility. Mackenzie presses charges for child neglect and requests child support.

Just because one parent already provides care and necessities for the child, does not mean the other biological parent is free from responsibility. The paternity test proved he was the father. Child neglect charges can still be filed against that absentee parent. Arnie would be guilty of PC 270 for failing to provide necessary care for their baby during and after the pregnancy. 

Example 4:

Jeff and Savannah adopt an 11-year-old, Mikey. The new transition from an orphanage to a family home was not easy for him. Mikey was a hand full, having trouble adjusting to a new school and to his adoptive parents. After several months, Jeff and Savannah decide they want to give him back to the state. Instead of going through the proper channels, they pack up his things and drop him off at the doorsteps of the orphanage. 

Adoptive parents or court-approved legal guardians who want to reverse their legal responsibility cannot simply abandon a child at a safe-haven, orphanage, group home, or a courthouse. Jeff and Savannah are guilty of PC 270, failing to provide care for their adopted child by abandoning him.

Legal Defense

There are many lawful situations that could be used as a legal defense in the event that you are charged with child neglect. Below is a list of the common defenses used to fight child neglect allegations. The help of an expert criminal defense attorney can make it easier to determine whether or not any of these options may apply to your situation.

Were you legally responsible for the child or even aware that you had a child?

Sadly, there are cases where child neglect accusations are thrust upon a parent who was not aware they even had a child. If you had a reasonable belief that you did not have a child and you were not told by the child’s mother that you did, then you were not legally responsible and cannot be charged with PC 270.


Sonja did not tell her ex-boyfriend, Dom, that he was the father of her 3-year-old infant, Vivian. When Sonja falls severely ill, she is no longer able to provide for Vivian. She was regularly late in picking her up from daycare. Sonja foresees her health degrading and decides to add Dom’s contact information to the daycare call list for her daughter. When she fails to pick Vivian up from daycare, they call Dom. Surprised, he claims they are mistaken and hangs up the phone. The daycare reports him for child neglect.

These are extenuating circumstances for both parents. Sonja’s deteriorating health prevented her from providing decent care for herself and Vivian. Although she withheld the truth from Dom, she added him to the call list out of fear that she could die from her illness while Vivian was at daycare. Dom did not know he was the father and truly thought it was just a mistake. He did not willfully intend to neglect his child.

Were the neglect accusations due to a lack of money?

Situations in which a parent lacked the funds to provide the necessities for their child(ren) do not constitute child negligence. If you had a lawful excuse for failing to provide physical necessities, you would not be guilty under PC 270.


Conner, a single-father, struggled to put dinner on the table for his two children after getting laid-off from his full-time job. He was able to find part-time work, but could not find full-time employment. He couldn’t earn enough to cover rent. They were kicked out and forced to live in their van. The children told their friends at school that they live in their van. Concerned teachers overheard and contacted child protective services, accusing Conner of failure to provide for his children.

The fact that Conner was actively looking for more work while already working is a lawful excuse for failing to provide decent shelter for his family. Just because he was unable to earn enough income did not mean he was willfully neglecting his parental duties.

Are you a non-custodial parent without visitation rights?

You would not be guilty of child neglect under PC 270 if you already lost your child custody rights in court.


Simon was going to school with dirty clothes, unkempt hair, and an upset stomach. His teacher, Mr. Dover, took notice and asked him why he was so hungry. Simon said he doesn’t get dinner at home.

Mr. Dover remembered the father’s name, Earl and reported him for failure to provide adequate sustenance to Simon. The teacher did not know that Earl had lost custody and visitation rights. In this case, Earl would not face charges for PC 270 because he already lost his parental rights.

Did you have a lawful excuse for failing to provide care for your child?

Failure to provide care for religious reasons can be considered a lawful excuse. However, the religious denomination has to be official. Also, if the child is severely injured, sick, or dies, the parents will still face legal consequences. 


Lillian and Bradford believe in healing through prayer. When their son, Andrew falls ill they enlist the help of an official practitioner who can perform prayer-based treatment instead of bringing him to the hospital. They would not be guilty of PC 270, child neglect because they chose remedial care and faith healing over traditional medical care.

On the other hand, if Andrew does not get better or grows critically ill, Lilian and Bradford could be charged with PC 273(a), child endangerment. If Andrew dies, they could face PC 192(b), involuntary manslaughter.

Penalties for Penal Code 270

Failure to provide care can become a wobbler, which means child neglect can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony. The maximum charges are to the prosector’s discretion, depending on the circumstances of the case and the defendant’s previous criminal history.

  • If convicted of child neglect as a misdemeanor, you face:

Summary (misdemeanor) probation, as much as one year in county jail, and/or fines of up to two thousand dollars.

  • A felony conviction results in:

Up to one year in the county jail, or as much as one year plus one more day in a California state prison, and/or fines of up to two thousand dollars.

Additional Consequences:

Depending on your criminal background and the details of your case, you could face further punishments. This might include exhausting financial burdens and/or possibly losing custody of your children. Do not let the situation escalate this far. It’s highly recommended you consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney who can help you gain the best possible outcome.

Penalties for Similar Offenses

  • Penal Code 273(d) – Child Abuse

Misdemeanor; as much as one year in county jail, and/or as much as six thousand dollars in fines.

Felony; 2, 4, or 6 years in county jail, and/or fines of up to six thousand dollars.

  • Penal Code 270.1(a) – Failure to enforce a child’s school attendance;

Misdemeanor; summary (informal) probation, up to one year in the county jail, and/or up to two thousand dollars in fines. 

  • Penal Code 273(a) – Child Endangerment;

Misdemeanor; as much as one year in county jail, and/or as much as six thousand dollars in fines.

Felony;  2, 4, or 6 years in county jail, and/or as much as six thousand dollars in fines.

  • Penal Code 278.5 – Deprivation of Custody;

Misdemeanor; up to one year in county jail, and/or up to one thousand dollars in fines.

Felony; 18 months, 2, or 3 years in county jail, and/or fines of up to ten thousand dollars, and covering/reimbursing all the costs associated with looking for the child.

  • Penal Code 278 – Child Abduction;

Misdemeanor; up to one year in county jail, and/or fines of up to one thousand dollars.

Felony; 2, 3, or 4 years in county jail, fines of up to ten thousand dollars, reimbursing all the costs associated with looking for the child.

We Can Help

Have you or someone you know been charged with PC 270, child neglect? Finding effective legal counsel should not be a difficult process. If you are located in the greater San Diego area, Los Angeles, or Orange County, contact the Law Offices of Anna R. Yum.

For more information about any of the statutes mentioned above or for a confidential consultation, contact us at 619-233-4433.