Parental Neglect in Child Custody Proceedings

The statistics are sobering. There were 306 substantiated reports of neglect in Pennsylvania for the year 2013 according to the Department of Public Welfare 2013 Annual Child Abuse Report. The reasons for neglect can be anything from marginal parenting skills to cruel withdrawal of food or affection.

Regardless of the reasons for the neglect, the result is that the court needs to decide the best custodial arrangement for the neglected child.

Neglect Court Cases

Whether a person has been accused of neglect or is hoping to remove a child from a neglectful situation by obtaining custody, he or she will need to go through Pennsylvania Courts Family Division. Generally the reason for a neglect court case is to ensure that the child or children are protected and living in a safe environment.

Not every parent accused of neglect loses the children. Courts will weigh the facts and determine whether the parent can and will make simple changes, or if the child should be removed.

Unfortunately, in vicious custody disputes, some parents may accuse the other of neglect. If you have been wrongfully accused of neglect, be sure to contact a lawyer immediately and do not sign anything that allows investigators or police to take your children, such as a “voluntary placement agreement,” until you have spoken to a lawyer. This agreement allows the county to take custody of your child or children for up to 30 days.

Neglect Court Proceedings

For a parent accused of neglect, the court proceedings run similar to any court case. You will receive a summons to appear in court on a specific day. There will then be a preliminary hearing to determine the validity of the accusations and a GAL (Guardian Ad Litem) or CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) will be appointed for any children involved.

According to the United States Office on Child Abuse and Neglect, Children’s Bureau, most cases follow this process:

  • petition for removal;
  • initial or preliminary hearing;
  • pretrial conferences;
  • discovery;
  • adjudication hearing;
  • disposition hearing;
  • review hearing(s); and
  • permanency hearing and if necessary termination of parental rights.

Each step in this court process can be long and complicated. It is in the best interest for all parties involved to look to the long-term welfare of the child.

Many times the process need not go any further than the pretrial conferences if a plan can be put in place to keep the child safe and protected while the accused person undergoes therapy, parenting classes or whatever the settlement agreement asks of them. Often during this process, a temporary custody agreement can be reached where the children stay with a grandparent or other family member.