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What is Considered Child Abuse and Neglect in Alabama?

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In Alabama, child abuse and neglect are defined as any physical injury, sexual abuse, emotional harm or threat of harm, or negligent treatment inflicted upon a child by an adult. In addition to this definition, the state also considers certain acts as sufficient enough evidence that a parent or guardian is failing in their duties towards their child. These include:

  • Refusal or inability to adequately provide for the child’s basic needs including food, shelter, and safety
  • Failure to provide proper medical attention when needed
  • Allowing a child to be exposed to drug use
  • Placing the child in a situation where he or she is exposed to violence
  • Exposing a child to an environment that is harmful to their physical, mental, and emotional well-being

Citizens are often reporters of suspected child abuse or neglect. This means that any person who has reasonable cause to suspect that is being abused or neglected, regardless of their profession or relationship to the child, can report it immediately. If a report of suspected child abuse is made in good faith – meaning it was done truthfully and not maliciously – the reporter is immune from civil or criminal liability.

Additionally, certain individuals, due to their profession, are considered to be a ‘mandatory reporter.’ Those that are a mandatory reporter are legally required to report possible incidents of child abuse or neglect. Mandatory reporters include:

  • Health care providers
  • Public and private school employees
  • Social service workers
  • Childcare professionals
  • Law enforcement officers
  • Members of the clergy

Can DHR Take My Kids If I’m Accused Of Child Abuse?

In Alabama, if DHR suspects that a parent has abused their child, they will investigate the incident. During this process, DHR will seek information from both the parent and any possible witnesses. If there is sufficient evidence of abuse, DHR can take several steps to protect the child, including removing the child from the home or placing them in protective custody. Depending on the severity of the case, the matter can also be referred to the local district attorney’s office, and criminal charges can be filed against a parent.

DHR has the legal ability to take your child into their temporary protective custody if they determine that the conditions present an immediate danger to your child’s life or health. Code of Alabama § 26-14-6 states:

A police officer, a law enforcement official, or a designated employee of the State or County Department of Human Resources may take a child into protective custody, or any person in charge of a hospital or similar institution or any physician treating a child may keep that child in his or her custody, without the consent of the parent or guardian, whether or not additional medical treatment is required, if the circumstances or conditions of the child are such that continuing in his or her place of residence or in the care and custody of the parent, guardian, custodian, or other person responsible for the child’s care presents an imminent danger to that child’s life or health. However, such official shall immediately notify the court having jurisdiction over juveniles of such actions in taking the child into protective custody; provided, that such custody shall not exceed 72 hours and that a court of competent jurisdiction and the Department of Human Resources shall be notified immediately in order that child-protective proceedings may be initiated. During such period of temporary custody, the director of the county department of human resources may give or cause to be given effective consent for medical, dental, health, and hospital services for any abused or neglected child.

As noted in the law, DHR cannot retain custody of a child beyond 72 hours without court intervention. This 72-hour rule is firm; it does not matter if the 72 hours is up on a Saturday, Sunday, or holiday – a court hearing is required within 72 hours.

If DHR determines that that conditions allow, they may attempt to work with families to develop plans to help ensure a child’s safety without removing the child from their home. This might include providing counseling services, requiring parenting classes, demanding drug rehabilitation or supervised visits as part of an agreement can also be introduced. These plans are typically addressed through a DHR Safety Plan. (link to safety plan article)

How Can A Lawyer Defend Me From Child Protective Services?

If you are under DHR investigation, it is essential to have a knowledgeable DHR lawyer represent you! You have rights, and you need to have someone one your side to inform you of these rights and to advocate for them. Jim Golden Law can explain your rights, advocate on behalf of you and your child, and help you navigate the DHR investigative process. Jim Golden Law wants to help you keep your family together! Contact us immediately if DHR is looming.

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