National Child Safety Awareness: Legal Strategies to Prove an Unsafe Environment for a Child

National Child Safety Awareness: Legal Strategies to Prove an Unsafe Environment for a Child
June 6, 2024
|   updated:
June 25, 2024

Nobel Peace Prize winner Nelson Mandela once said, "There can be no keener revelations of a society's soul than the way in which it treats its children." It is a cruel realization to know a child's heart in a neighboring house or town will thump due to a lack of regard for their well-being while your own children lay peacefully in their beds at night.

America's children are suffering. According to the National Children’s Alliance, 600,000 children in the U.S. were victims of abuse and neglect in 2021. An estimated 1,820 died that same year as a result.

Child safety initiatives are launched all year round in the United States, particularly between May and September each year. These initiatives educate parents, teachers, and other community members about the importance of child injury prevention. Some parents will make every attempt to achieve the optimal level of safety for their children, while others will continue to act in ways that, often inadvertently, disrupt their children's lives.

Prevention is a sharper weapon than resolution in safeguarding children of the U.S. from harm. There must be legal measures in place to substantiate claims of unsafe living environments to avoid long-term damage to a child's physical and emotional health, particularly in child custody cases.

A smiling child in a safe environment

Why Child Safety Matters

Child maltreatment claims the lives of 2.2 per 1,000 children a year. A study of 88 child fatalities in Minnesota from 2014 to 2022 found that the majority of the deaths resulted from the prioritization of the parents' needs or preservation of the family unit rather than the wellness of the child.

In addition to decreasing the number of injuries and deaths, implementing legal strategies to show unsafe living conditions in custody cases helps improve the social, mental, and educational outcomes of children. An abused or neglected child is more likely to develop mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety, psychosis, and bipolar disorder. They are also more prone to struggle academically, negatively impacting their social and economic status as adults. 

A child sitting on a bench holding his teddy bear

What is Negligence of a Child?

One in four children will be a victim of child maltreatment. Nearly 80 percent of those children will experience neglect, making it the most common form of child abuse. Child negligence is defined as the deprivation of a child's basic needs, including healthcare, clothing, shelter, education, and appropriate supervision, as well as the absence of emotional and psychological support.

Types of Neglect

Forms of neglect can vary, but the four most common types are physical, educational, emotional, and medical.

Physical Neglect

Every child deserves to have their basic needs met, such as food, clothing, and shelter. However, it is regarded as physical neglect when a child goes hungry, arrives at school with soiled clothing, or is left alone for several hours without parental supervision.

Educational Neglect

Education prepares children for a successful future and helps them build social skills to navigate the world more effectively. Missing excessive classes or a parent's refusal to enroll their son or daughter in a school or a homeschooling program is defined by the Courts as educational neglect.

Emotional Neglect

Children need nurturing and emotional support to thrive socially, especially during their formative years. But when they experience abandonment, humiliation, intimidation, or isolation in the home, this is a form of neglect. Emotional neglect can be one of the most challenging to prove because there are no visible symptoms like cuts or bruises.

Medical Neglect

Contracting illnesses are common in childhood. Toddlers and school-aged children are still developing, causing their bodies to be more vulnerable to sickness and disease. Denying medical or dental care or dismissing physician recommendations is considered medical neglect.

What is Considered an Unsafe Environment for a Child?

A child custody case can be one of the most daunting matters for Family Law Attorneys, Divorce Lawyers, and parents to maneuver. Even under the most amicable circumstances, disagreements about visitation schedules, child-rearing decisions, and finances can provoke parental disputes. Concerns that one parent cannot provide their kids with a safe or stable home can add a layer of angst.

Home is where children go to feel safe, a comforting shield to protect them from the atrocities in the world their little minds haven't yet learned to decipher. However, when a child's residence is a battleground instead of a place of solace, it can unravel their emotional and mental stability, classifying it as unsafe. An unsafe environment is any living situation that poses harm to a child's physical, cognitive, and emotional development.

Examples of Unsafe Environments

The Family Court Judge will evaluate several factors to determine the safety of a living situation or whether a parent is unfit based on the best interest of the child's welfare.

An unstable or unsafe home can take many forms, including the presence of domestic violence, emotional and sexual abuse, alcohol addiction, mental health issues, and uninvolved or inconsistent parenting.

Domestic Violence

Domestic abuse doesn't just include physical violence. It also encompasses financial abuse, verbal abuse, and sexual assault. Children who witness violence against their mothers, fathers, or other family members or are victims of abuse themselves tend to experience greater incidences of sleep disturbances, aggressive behavior, generalized anxiety, difficulty concentrating, and depression.

Inconsistent Parenting

Children need quality time with both parents to bond and flourish. However, one parent may work long hours or become too consumed with their personal problems to pay attention to their son or daughter. This disregard of parenting responsibilities may result in a failure to show up for visits or the child spending an extensive amount of time unsupervised in the home.

Substance Abuse

A parent's job is to protect and nurture. Still, when a mother or father suffers from an alcohol or drug addiction, their kid's needs often become secondary, if even acknowledged at all. This type of neglect may include a parent driving while under the influence of alcohol with their children in the car or missing scheduled visits because the parent is intoxicated. 

Mental Illness

Although the presence of a mental health disorder is not indicative of abuse or neglect, the Court may view the parent as unfit if their mental condition prohibits them from providing for their son or daughter's basic needs. For example, the parent may force a child to stay home from school to care for their younger siblings or become incapable of cooking meals or taking their children to class due to their mental health.

Recognizing Signs of Neglect

Amid the stress of a child custody case, it's easy to miss the symptoms of neglect, which are rarely apparent. Observing the following signs is essential to keeping your kids safe. 

  • The child expresses hunger or tiredness multiple times after visiting the other party.
  • The child becomes withdrawn or loses interest in daily activities.
  • The child returns home from spending time with the other party in dirty or odorous clothes, suggesting poor hygiene.
  • There are repeated accidents that indicate the child is going unsupervised while in the other party's care. For example, the child experiences multiple broken bones or bruises from unexplained falls.
  • There is evidence of unsanitary home conditions, such as a lack of heat, running water, leaky pipes, holes in the wall, or animal feces on the carpet.
A judge in court

How Does a Family Court Judge Determine a Parent is Unfit?

For most people, parenting is a privilege. Dedicating countless hours to loving and serving your offspring becomes its own reward. It's also a right protected by law unless a parent gives up this right or the Court finds them incapable of fulfilling their parental role based on evidence.

Before declaring a parent unfit, a Family Law Judge will consider the history of drug or alcohol use, the physical and mental health of the parent, and whether there was domestic abuse or violence in the home. The Judge might also evaluate the parent's ability to care for the child, work schedule, financial stability, the child's feelings about the parent, and parental conflicts.

Behaviors of an Unfit Parent

  • A parent driving while drinking alcohol or leaving a child unattended while under the influence.
  • A parent locking a kid in the closet as a form of punishment.
  • A parent's hoarding in the home leads to unsanitary conditions such as rodent infestation or mold.
  • A parent abandons a toddler in the home without adequate food or supervision.
A sad child feeling unsafe

How Substance Abuse Affects Parenting

A report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) revealed that 7.5 million children 17 years old and under lived with a parent who has an Alcohol Use Disorder. Some studies have linked alcohol misuse to incidences of child abuse and neglect. 

Alcohol addiction can adversely affect children in the home, as parents are less likely to make decisions that will benefit their children. Consequently, the mother or father's actions may disrupt routines and communication, fostering feelings of abandonment.

Explaining how the Soberlink alcohol device can help with legal strategies for parents

Soberlink: Advanced Remote Alcohol Monitoring for Family Law 

Soberlink's comprehensive system offers an innovative solution for alcohol monitoring in custody cases, combining technology and convenience to provide court-admissible documentation of sobriety that supports child safety and offers peace of mind for parents.

  • Discreet and Portable Breathalyzer: Soberlink's cutting-edge remote breathalyzer is designed for convenience and discretion, enabling parents to prove their sobriety anytime, anywhere.
  • Instant Notification System: BAC readings are immediately transmitted to designated parties through text or email, promoting transparency and trust in custodial situations.
  • Intuitive Software: User-friendly software ensures a seamless experience that eliminates hearsay, streamlining litigation and making processes more efficient for both legal professionals and parents.
  • Facial Recognition Technology: With advanced facial recognition, Soberlink automatically verifies the identity of the person being tested, ensuring accurate and reliable results.
  • Tamper Detection Sensors: Equipped with sophisticated sensors, the system effectively detects any attempts to cheat the system, maintaining the integrity of the testing process and promoting child safety.
  • Expert In-House Support: Soberlink’s dedicated support team includes a compliance department, provides certified records, and offers expert testimony as needed, serving the needs of the family law community with over 10 years of experience. 

Providing Evidence of an Unsafe Home or Unfit Parent in a Child Custody Case

A parent who accuses their former spouse of being an unfit parent must provide documentation to the Family Law Court to validate their claims. Family Law Professionals or parents can acquire this information in several ways, including:

  • Taking photographs or videos of potential hazards in the home, such as an absence of childproofing protocols, faulty locks, and exposed weapons or receptacles.
  • Requesting school records to show excessive absences or unexplained tardiness.
  • Providing texts, emails, or screenshots of social media posts demonstrating alcohol or substance abuse problems.
  • Obtaining police records that reveal incidences of domestic violence or child abuse.
  • Acquiring medical records documenting a child's broken bones or bruises.
  • Requesting testimony from therapists or counselors revealing emotional disturbances or unexplained aggressive behavior.
  • Reaching out to teachers or other school staff for written statements confirming a change in the child's behavior.
  • Obtaining court-admissible records proving a parent’s substance abuse

For children enduring the arduous process of a custody case, a safe home can feel like a magic trick, whisking them away from the turmoil of bouncing between homes and the dissolving of their family unit. When the safety of that home is in question, Concerned Parties, Divorce Lawyers, and Family Law Attorneys must diligently utilize legal strategies to prove unsafe living conditions.

One of the critical tools for demonstrating substance abuse, particularly alcohol abuse, is the Soberlink system. Soberlink provides a thorough remote alcohol monitoring solution tailored for custody and alcohol-related cases. Esteemed by both practitioners and clients, this system enhances parental accountability and is recognized as the leading choice for alcohol monitoring. It is especially vital in child custody cases where a parent's alcohol use is under scrutiny, potentially impacting their parenting time.

With enough hands working for children's justice, we can collectively ensure that a young girl, boy, or non-binary child will never know fear, the pound of a fist, or the quiver of their bodies, longing for love.

An attorney is providing evidence of an unsafe home

The Critical Role of Family Law Attorneys in Child Custody Cases When Safety is a Factor

Finally, the role of a Family Law Attorney or Divorce Lawyer in a child custody case is critical, especially when proving an unsafe environment. These Family Law Professionals must assist their clients in gathering substantial evidence to present a compelling case to the Court. This involves preparing the party for what will take place in court, strategically presenting your case, organizing and documenting instances of neglect or abuse, assembling audio and video recordings, indexing printouts from co-parenting apps, obtaining testimonies from witnesses, and leveraging tools like Soberlink that monitor alcohol abuse. By meticulously building a custody case, attorneys help ensure that the child's best interests are prioritized and that they are placed in a safe, nurturing environment.

Ultimately, the safety and well-being of a child should be the paramount concern in any custody dispute. Through the diligent efforts of Family Lawyers and Divorce Attorneys, the legal system can protect vulnerable children and provide them with the stable, loving homes they deserve.

As society becomes more aware of the signs of neglect and the importance of child safety, we can hope for a future where every child is free from harm and able to thrive in a supportive environment.

Learn More About Soberlink

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