What Happens When Charged With Child Endangerment?

By Claire Gillespie

Updated November 28, 2018

Every person who is responsible for a child has a duty to keep that child safe at all times. Child endangerment can be interpreted very broadly. Many acts or omissions can fall within its scope. Crimes against children are taken very seriously in every state, so you 'll most likely have to prepare yourself for a criminal trial if you're charged with child endangerment.


Child endangerment is a serious offense that can be prosecuted as a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the circumstances and state law.

Definition of Child Endangerment

The precise definition of child endangerment varies by state, but federal legislation such as the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act provides guidance by defining abuse and neglect. Generally, a child endangerment charge can be brought if a person engages in conduct that places a child at risk from death, injury or physical or mental impairment. Although child endangerment is typically linked to child abuse, it's not necessary for an actual assault to take place. A failure to do something can also cause child endangerment.

If that sounds broad, as if any small parental mistake could lead to a child endangerment charge, don't worry. Having a child in the car while driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, exposing a child to drug transactions, and leaving a young child without proper supervision are some clear examples of child endangerment. Running late when picking up your child at daycare probably is not. The law is not intended to punish parents who make simple or unavoidable errors.

A person can only be charged with child endangerment if he has a relationship with and a duty of responsibility for the child, such as a parent, grandparent, teacher, coach or daycare worker.

Child Endangerment Laws

Some states punish child endangerment as a type of child abuse, while others punish it as a different offense. For example, California law defines child endangerment as when any person causes great bodily harm or death to a child. This crime includes inflicting physical abuse upon a child, but also letting a child physically or mentally suffer. Under Tennessee law, child endangerment is when the parent or custodian of a child under 8 years old knowingly exposes the child to abuse or neglect resulting in physical injury to the child, or knowingly fails to protect the child from this abuse or neglect.

Punishment for Child Endangerment

Depending on the circumstances and whether child endangerment is charged as a misdemeanor or a felony, the punishment can range from six months to 20 years.

For example, a child endangerment charge is a felony in Iowa when a person's act or failure to act results in bodily injury, serious injury or the death of a child. The charge can be raised as the act or failure to act gets worse. The court can impose conditions such as parenting classes, counseling and restricted access to the child if you're placed on probation.

Some states incorporate mandatory conditions into the endangerment charges, such as California, which requires the completion of an extensive parenting class. Many state child protective agencies will investigate to determine whether a defendant’s parental rights to the child should be restricted or terminated following a child endangerment charge. The parent might have to complete and pass a series of home visits before reuniting with the child.

Getting a Child Endangerment Charge Dropped

A child endangerment charge is a very serious matter. Your first step in knowing how to get a such a charge against you dropped should be to consult a family law and criminal law attorney. The attorney will ask for your version of events and decide whether you have a legal defense to the charge.

Possible defenses to child endangerment are false accusations – someone has fabricated the allegations of child endangerment – and reasonable discipline. For example, you might have spanked a child who was misbehaving. Lack of willfulness can also be a defense. Perhaps you accidentally inflicted injury on the child. You didn't intend to do so.