Abuse and Neglect

Page updated on Jul 30, 2007 at 1:43 PM

Abuse or Neglect

An abused or neglected child is a child whose caregiver creates, inflicts, allows, or threatens physical or mental injury to the child other than by accident. In addition, abuse or neglect can occur when the caregiver does not provide the care that is necessary for the child's health or allows a sexual act to be committed against the child. A child can be abused or neglected even if it is not clear who injured the child. An abused or neglected child may also be a child whose caregiver abandons the child or whose caregiver is mentally or physically unable to care for the child.

The cases that arise most often because of the behavior mentioned above are civil cases where parents or other custodians or caregivers of a child are accused of doing something or failing to do something that is included in the definition above. Most often the Alexandria Division of Family Services resolves these matters without bringing them to Court. The most serious cases and those where a parent, parents or caregiver refuse to cooperate with Social Services are the ones normally brought to the attention of the Court.

The Court can issue a Child Protective Order in these cases and allow the child to remain in the custody of the parent or legal custodian, or the Court can remove the child from the custody of the parent or caregiver and place the child with a relative, another interested person, or in a foster home. The Court can also enter a Child Protective Order directing the parent to participate in certain programs and activities.

These can be very complicated cases. Because of that fact, lawyers are appointed by the Court to represent the children involved. This kind of lawyer is called a Guardian ad Litem, and he or she is required to represent the best interests of the child. Each parent or custodian of the child is also appointed a lawyer unless they are able to pay for their own.

Being involved in a child abuse and neglect case can be very confusing and stressful for a family. Not knowing what to expect can make it even more difficult. At the bottom of this page is a link to a Handbook for Parents and Guardians in Child Abuse or Neglect Cases that will help one understand what will generally happen when a child is removed from the home. We recommend that this handbook be printed out and kept for reference throughout the process of the case in court. In addition to being an informational resource, it provides space to write in the names of the people who will be involved in the case, the dates of court hearings, and some questions to ask.

Criminal cases can also result from an act of abuse or neglect of a child where the parent or caregiver is charged and, if convicted, could be punished by a judge of the Juvenile Court or, where the case is a felony, by the judge of the Circuit Court.

The Alexandria Court Appointed Special Advocate Program (CASA) is appointed by the Juvenile Court in certain of these cases to investigate and advocate on behalf of a child or children in a family. The CASA Program has been in existence in Alexandria since 1989 and provides very valuable service to the Court and the children involved with the Court. To learn more about volunteer opportunities or about the Program itself you may call 703-836-1820.

A Handbook for Parents and Guardians in Child Dependency Cases