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Failure to Provide Care (Child Neglect)

California law gives a parent a broad scope on how they can bring up a child. Nonetheless, when a parent does not provide the fundamental needs of care to the child, they could be guilty of an offense under California Penal Code Section 270 of child neglect. Penal Code 270 states that it is a misdemeanor not to give your minor the essential material care. This crime is referred to as failure to provide care or child neglect. However, this offense is different from other allied offenses of child abuse and child endangerment because the offense of child neglect can result even if the parent who has limited or no contact with the child.

For you to be convicted of child neglect under California laws Penal Code 270 the following conditions must be met:

  • You must be the child’s parent,
  • The child was under eighteen years of age (a minor),
  • You did not provide the child with the necessary material care, and
  • You did so devoid of any legal justification and that you acted deliberately.

A Closer Look at These Elements

The child’s parent

Under PC 270, you are considered to be the child’s parent if you are the biological father or mother or you assumed the care of the child through adoption. You are also a parent if you have never been married to or you are legally divorced from the custodial parent of the child despite of not having any legal parental rights.

For instance, Ted and Nancy, after a short relationship, decide to break up but Nancy is already pregnant. When she tells Ted the news, he advises her to seek an abortion, but Nancy would hear none of that. After this episode, both of them do not talk again. Several years later, Ted learns from a mutual friend that Nancy had become addicted to drugs and was not been providing the child she and Ted with adequate material care that included food and clothing. Although this news really bothers Ted, in his opinion, he lacks time to assist. Moreover, Ted is afraid that Nancy might not desire to talk to him after this many years and does not bother to contact her. In this situation, Ted could be found guilty of Penal Code 270 child neglect without the court considering the fact that he has never met the child.

Unless you are sterile or impotent, if the child was conceived when the mother was living with or married to you, the jury may have the presumption that you are the father. It would matter little if the mother was having conjugal relationships with other men.

Failure to provide needs

Necessities for the determination of California’s law on child neglect entail such materials like food, shelter, clothing, and health care or supplementary remedial care.

It is worth noting that if you subscribe to an acknowledged religious denomination or church that advocates for prayers as a form of spiritual treatment, and the prayers are offered by a practitioner of the church, such can be deemed as a kind of supplementary remedial care. However, this type of care is allowed if it is adequate and does not put the health of the child at risk. This implies that if your religious principles forbid you from utilizing traditional medication, you could instead use faith-based healing and still be deemed to have obeyed California Penal Code 270. But this can still bring up a complication for you if it jeopardizes the health of your child. If the child dies during the faith-based healing process, you could be charged with involuntary manslaughter Penal Code 192(b).

Willfully and devoid of legitimate justification

For you to be convicted of PC 270 violation, the prosecutor must establish that you acted in a willful manner. “Willful” in this case means that you acted deliberately or on purpose. Conversely, for you to be deemed to have a legitimate reason for not proving care, it must be established that you are not able to make sufficient money to cater for the child’s needs and that the circumstances are not your fault.

For instance, Brian and Janet are married with four kids.  Janet has an ailment that makes it difficult to get a job. Furthermore, Brian has just been retrenched from his employment due to hard economic times for the company he worked for. Although Brian attempts to get another job, he is not successful. His family is kicked out from their house due to non-payment of rent and they start residing in a tent that is located on the property of a friend. Brian’s family depends on food banks and stamps to get their meals. Unfortunately, there are nights when the children sleep hungry.  As the situation escalates, a teacher in school notices the hungry children and informs the police and Brian and Janet are charged with child neglect Penal Code 270. Janet and Brian can use lack of money as a legal excuse for their failure to provide care in the form of food and shelter and there is a possibility that they will be found innocent of the charge.

Now imagine that after the job loss and eviction, Brian refused to look for another job and let the children to rely solely on the mercy of strangers. In this case, Brian lacks the lawful excuse of failing to provide care because he failed to diligently look for work. Therefore, he might be charged for child neglect under 270. Important to note, you may be found of child neglect even in circumstances that another individual, organization or the other parent is offering the child the care that you have failed to provide.

Let’s look at another example: Elizabeth is a single mother to Jennifer, a 7-year-old. Elizabeth works as a waitress on a part-time basis. Although she does not make a lot of money, the little she gets is mostly spent on her own entertainment and clothes. She uses all the money within one week after the payday leaving her with no money to buy her daughter food and warm clothes during winter. However, Janet who is Jennifer’s teacher is aware of her state and occasionally she gives Jennifer lunch and buys warm winter clothes for her. In this case, Elizabeth’s reason for not providing care for Jennifer is because she elects to use her money on unnecessary items and though Janet offers Jennifer most of the needs that Elizabeth fails to provide, Elizabeth is guilty of failure to provide care under Penal Code 270.


In California, child neglect is prosecuted as a felony or a misdemeanor. If you are a first-time offender of failure to provide care, you will be charged with a misdemeanor whose probable consequences are:

  • A maximum of one year in county jail,
  • A maximum fine of US$2,000 and/or
  • Misdemeanor probation.

If the respondent is a father who has previously been involved in a court parenthood dispute, the offense could attract harsher penalties. The offense will be considered to be a felony if you have a prior child neglect conviction.  

Luckily, however, a California court believes that those harsher consequences infringe on the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution in circumstances where the respondent has never before been sentenced of child neglect. Therefore, the prosecutor is less likely to pursue child neglect except if you have a prior conviction for this crime.

For example, David has a child with Stella.  In child custody battles that took place in the past, it was established that David was the biological father of the minor. But both David and Stella do not provide sufficient and essential care for the child. Additionally, David has been convicted previously for domestic battery against Stella. He however has never been convicted of a child abuse offense. The prosecutor might be persuaded to charge David with misdemeanor child neglect.

However, if David had a child abuse conviction before, he could be charged with Penal Code section 270 felony on account of the past conviction. Conversely, if David was not adjudicated to be the child’s father, it is highly likely that he will be charged with misdemeanor child neglect because as mentioned above, harsher penalties are applied to those whose parental status is legally determined.

Legal Defenses to Child Neglect

If you or your loved one has been arrested, is being investigated, or has been charged with the crime of failure to provide care to a child, you should contact an attorney immediately. There are several defenses that your attorney can raise to fight the charges:

You did not act purposely or deliberately

For the prosecutor to demonstrate guilt of child neglect Under Penal Code section 270, he or she must prove that you purposely and deliberately failed to provide care to the minor. In most cases, those charged with child neglect in California are fathers who are referred to as “deadbeat dads”

Some of these fathers do not have guardianship of their children maybe as a result of divorce. As it turns out the father would have desired to assist his children, but have been barred from accomplishing this by the mother herself. In certain cases, they do not have any idea whether their children are being deprived of basic needs. If you were not aware that your child was not being taken care of, you’re not guilty of this offense.

For instance, Jackson is the only parent of a three year old. Unfortunately, his work entails considerable travels, and so he enlisted the assistance of a nanny to take care of the child in his absence. On one such occasion, Jackson travelled and left the child under the care of the nanny. But unknown to him, the nanny did not dress or feed the child well, but every time he called home the nanny assured him that everything was fine. The law enforcers got to know about the child’s predicament. In a case such as this, Jackson cannot be guilty of child neglect since it was reasonable for him to assume that the child was receiving proper care.

You had a reasonable, legitimate reason

If you are facing circumstances that are out of your control and you do not have the ability to properly care for your children, then you could use that as a defense and the court ought not to find you guilty of child neglect. If you suddenly get laid off from work and even after searching for another one diligently you are still unable to secure employment you have a justifiable reason for not being able to take care of your children. Your advocate could use this as a defense if you are accused of child neglect. Other circumstances that give one a lawful excuse include homelessness or destitution.

Related Offenses

Additional analogous or allied crimes comprise:

  • Child abuse under California Penal Code section 273(d) and
  • Child endangerment California Penal code 273(a) which could become involuntary manslaughter Penal Code 192(b) in case of death to the minor.

How the Long Beach Criminal Lawyer Criminal Defense Attorney Can Help You

If you are facing child neglect charges it is prudent to consult with Long Beach Criminal Lawyer as soon as possible. As with all legal situations, Long Beach Criminal Lawyer takes prosecution and police account of events very seriously. To this end they will carry out their own independent inquiries and exhaustively and accurately evaluate the specific facts of your case to formulate a defense strategy that they will employ to have these charges dismissed. We understand the sensitivity and urgency of this matter, especially given that it directly concerns your child. We will fight zealously to achieve the best possible outcome. For a free initial consultation with one of our zealous child neglect defense attorneys, contact us any time 24/7 at 562-304-5121.

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