What is Child Neglect in North Carolina

Child neglect

What is Child Neglect in North Carolina?

Child neglect is a serious accusation. In North Carolina, if a child is neglected, the state will take measures to protect the child. But what does it mean for a child to be neglected?

In North Carolina, a child is neglected if the child:

  • Doesn’t receive proper care, supervision, or discipline from the child’s parent, guardian, custodian, or caretaker
  • Doesn’t receive necessary medical or remedial care
  • Lives in an environment injurious to his or her welfare
  • Has been abandoned
  • Is a victim of human trafficking
  • Has been placed for care or adoption in violation of the law
  • Has had custody unlawfully transferred

Let’s look at each of the above prongs more in-depth.

  1. Doesn’t receive proper care, supervision, or discipline. Facts supporting a finding of neglect under this prong vary widely but to qualify as neglect, the court must find the child was impaired or at substantial risk of impairment due to lack of care, supervision, or discipline. For instance if a parent leaves a child in a car alone for an extended period of time, depending on the circumstances and if the child suffered an injury in some way, the court may decide the child did not receive proper care or supervision.


  1. Doesn’t receive necessary medical or remedial care. Unfortunately, the Juvenile Code doesn’t define “necessary medical or remedial care” and doesn’t address the role a parent’s religious beliefs play in the decision to decline medical services. However, the higher courts have affirmed several decisions based on this prong. That being said, the court can’t decide the child is neglected simply because the child wasn’t taken to their well-care visits. The court must also find the child was adversely affected.


  1. Lives in an injurious environment. This often comes up when a child lives in a home where domestic violence occurs or where the child has access to illegal substances or is harmed in some way by a parent’s substance abuse issues.

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  1. Has been abandoned. Abandonment can be a one-time act or it can result from a series of actions (or inactions) that evidence a parent’s willful intention to give up his or her parental claim to the child. For instance, an infant is considered abandoned if their parent delivers them to the hospital under NC’s safe surrender laws.


  1. A victim of human trafficking. A child is a victim of human trafficking if they are subjected to the crime of human trafficking, involuntary servitude, or sexual servitude as defined in NC General Stat. 14-43.11-.13.


  1. Placed for care or adoption in violation of the law. While there currently aren’t any appellate decisions to help define this prong, unlawful adoptive placements could include unlicensed group homes or unlawful payments related to adoption.


  1. Has had custody unlawfully transferred. According to NC General Stat. 14-321.2, unlawful transfer of custody means the unlawful transfer of custody to a person other than a relative or other person who has a substantial relationship with the child. It is not unlawful to place a minor child with a prospective adoptive parent in accordance with Chapter 48 of the NC General Statutes. Neither is it unlawful to temporarily transfer physical custody of a minor child to a behavioral health facility or other health care provider or educational institution.

Additionally, if a child lives in a home where another child was abused or neglected by an adult who lives in the home or where another child died from abuse or neglect, a judge may take that into account when determining whether or not a child is neglected.

If you or someone you know has been accused of neglect or has an open DSS investigation, contact our office today to speak with one of our knowledgeable child welfare attorneys to get your questions answered and discuss a plan for how to move forward.

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