Child abandonment and child neglect are often used as interchangeable terms; however, North Carolina law notes that there is a difference between the two. The minimum standards for enforcing child abandonment laws are determined at the federal level, but the appropriate actions, punishments and protocols for handling child abandonment are addressed by each state. According to North Carolina law, a child is one who has not reached his 18th birthday, has not been emancipated, is not married and has not enlisted in the military.
The intent of the parent or caregiver is taken into consideration with child abandonment laws in North Carolina. If a parent willingly forfeits the choice in the child’s well-being and upbringing with no intentions of resuming care, then the child is deemed abandoned. Statute 14 322.1 defines abandonment as “willfully abandon[ing] his or her child and … fail[ing] or refus[ing] to provide adequate means of support” for a six-month period. Any parent who attempts to hide her location from the child with the intent of avoiding the legal obligation of child support will be charged with child abandonment.
A neglected child in North Carolina is one who does not receive or is denied adequate “care, supervision or discipline” from the parent or caregiver. Neglect is also defined as the resistance to provide sufficient medical and remedial care. A child is labeled neglected when the living situation is considered unsafe or injurious to his personal welfare. When determining whether a child has been neglected, North Carolina law finds it relevant if the child is suspected to be residing in a home or with an adult where another child has either died or been subjected to neglect or abuse.
In 2001, North Carolina passed the Infant Homicide Prevention Act that allows parents to legally and anonymously leave an infant up to seven days old with “any responsible adult.” Although “any responsible adult” is not explicitly defined, the act suggests several people that fit the criteria: police, medical providers and social services workers. Also referred to as the Safe Surrender Law, this act was put into place to reduce the occurrence of infanticide in the state as well as help parents in crisis or those feeling overwhelmed with the duties of raising a child.
Each county in North Carolina is required to provide protective services for juveniles who have been potentially abandoned, abused or neglected. It is the duty of protective services to investigate, screen complaints and manage casework. Any person who has reason to believe that a child has been abandoned or neglected must report the incident to the director of the protective services where the child resides. The report can be made by telephone, in person at protective services or in writing. Make sure to include the name, address and age of the child; the name and address of the parent or caretaker; and any evidence of the suspected abandonment or neglect. The state hot line for Child Protective services in 919-733-4622; it can provide contact information for each county in North Carolina.
After a report has been filed, protective services will open an investigation to assess the validity of the claim. If the investigation determines that abandonment or neglect has occurred, protective services may immediately remove the child and any other juvenile from the residence. If the director decides immediate removal is not necessary, then another means of protective measures will be implemented. When a parent or caregiver refuses to accept these measures, the director will file a complaint asking for the court to assume jurisdiction over the child. In North Carolina, child abandonment is a serious offense, and those found guilty can be charged with up to a Class I felony.