In May of 2023, two women from Toms River, New Jersey, were charged with child endangerment after police discovered an eight-year-old boy locked in a room that smelled of his own urine. The child was also secluded from interacting with other home members, did not have access to a bathroom, and did not have any furniture to sit on inside the room, including a bed or even a light. News stories like these are hard to read, and it's hard to understand how someone could resort to this type of behavior. While this is a severe example of seclusion tactics as a disciplinary method, other instances of seclusion or isolation methods may be illegal under New Jersey law without parents or caregivers even realizing it.
Understanding Child Endangerment And Abuse Laws In New Jersey
In New Jersey, child abuse and endangerment charges are understandably taken very seriously, and state law provides a legal framework to ensure minors are free from abusive or neglectful environments.
Title 9, Section 6-1 of the New Jersey Statutes provides guidance on what constitutes forms of child abuse, abandonment, cruelty, and neglect. Under these statutes about abuse, physical isolation may be abusive where “excessive restraint” is used on a child under circumstances that do not indicate “that the child's behavior is harmful to himself” or others. The law further prohibits willfully isolating children from “ordinary social contact” under circumstances that indicate emotional or social deprivation.
Reading these two excerpts together, it's important to remember that timeouts and other seclusion punishments should not be used in a manner that physically restrains a child, such as locking a child in another room. Punishments should also be brief and used in a manner where the child does not suffer emotional or social deprivation, such as being neglected or feeling as though they are not cared for or part of the family.
The statutes go on to address that abandonment may occur in instances where a parent or caregiver forsakes a child or fails to care for the child because they are exposed to physical risk or do not have sufficient protection. For example, if you were to place a four-year-old on time out in your backyard without adult supervision, you may temporarily abandon them if they are not protected from animals, drowning incidents, etc.
Cruelty and Neglect
Under the statutes, seclusion and isolation tactics may also be classified as cruelty and neglect. Child cruelty is defined as any act that inflicts unnecessary mental or physical suffering or otherwise exposes a child to hardship, fatigue, or strings that affect a child's overall well-being. In this instance, temporarily isolating a child under your supervision from one of their siblings due to a fight would not affect their overall well-being, whereas separating your child from family members for longer periods may.
Finally, the statutes indicate that neglect may consist of things such as failing to ensure your child receives a proper education, resides in a “proper home,” or does not receive things necessary for their “physical or moral well-being.”
Don't Fight Child Abuse Allegations Alone
While these statutes may seem broad, they are purposefully written to encompass a wide array of child abuse and child endangerment acts that the law reviews on a case-by-case basis. Although discipline and redirection are necessary while raising children, it's important to understand that certain forms of punishment, especially those that isolate your child, may be considered abusive or endangering without you even realizing it. Child abuse and endangerment charges can have drastic consequences on your life, even to the point of losing custody of your child.
If you are facing child abuse or endangerment charges and need help carving a path forward for your family, contact criminal defense Attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team today by calling 888-535-3686 or by using our online contact form.