Federal statute dictates national minimum standards concerning child abandonment and neglect, yet individual states determine whether or not each case should be handled in civil or criminal court. A “child,” according to Ohio statute, is anyone under the age of 18. Although the terms child abandonment and child neglect are sometimes used interchangeably, the state of Ohio distinguishes between the two.
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Definition of Neglected Child
A neglected child is one who does not receive sufficient care due to the errors and habits of the parents, guardians or custodians. According to Ohio law, sufficient care is defined as “adequate food, clothing, and shelter to ensure the child’s heath and physical safety and the provision by a child’s parent or parents of specialized services warranted by the child’s physical or mental needs.” Therefore, neglect may also include a child who is left unattended in potentially dangerous circumstances or when a parent, guardian or custodian fails to be available to provide adequate support for a specified time.
Definition of Abandoned Child
A child may be abandoned if the identity or location of the parents, guardians or custodians is unknown. Ohio law states “a child is presumed abandoned when the parents of the child have failed to visit or maintain contact with the child for more than ninety days.” Even if the parents re-establish contact with the child after 90 days, the child is still considered abandoned. Because Ohio law is based on presumption, you do not need confirmation that a child has been abandoned, only reasonable suspicion.
Identifying Neglect and Abandonment
The initial step in helping a child who has been potentially abandoned is to identify the signs. The child may show sudden behavioral changes; he may have trouble concentrating, appear withdrawn or excessively submissive. The child may show an interest in staying at school longer and may not want to go home. A parent’s actions may also manifest symptoms of neglecting a child. The parent may appear to treat the child apathetically; for example, she may fail to provide medical treatment for the child although the issue has been brought to her attention. The parent may even verbally express that the child is worthless or troublesome.
Reporting an Abandoned Child
In Ohio, if you have cause to believe that a child has been abandoned or could potentially be abandoned, it is your responsibility to report the incident to your local child protective services. Reports are filed with a child protective agency or a police officer. When reporting an abandoned child, Ohio requires the following information: names and address of the parent(s) and child, child’s age and evidence of suspected neglect and abandonment. Report any suspected incidents to the law enforcement or public children service agency in the county the child resides. If you are unsure of the county, call ChildHelp, a national hotline at 1-800-422-2253.
After the Report Is Filed
Once you have reported a potential incident, child protective services will open an investigation to determine if the child has been abandoned. Ohio state law dictates, “the public children’s services agency shall investigate, within twenty-four hours each report” of neglect or abandonment. It is the duty of the state to ensure the over all well-being of the child and offer support and assistance to the parents, guardians or custodians involved. After the investigation has been completed, the agency decides the appropriate measures and whether or not to alert the police, judicial system or other professionals.