Parenting can be tough. It is a rewarding job, but it can be extremely frustrating and difficult—particularly when there is no support system in place and no resources to get help.  An added challenge is appropriate discipline in a world that seems to have such fluid and varied definitions of “appropriate.”

Some people consider spanking to be an appropriate and useful form of discipline. Others consider spanking to be abuse.

An exasperated act or a misunderstanding can lead a person to be suspected of child abuse, investigated by the Department of Human Services, and possibly criminally charged.

If you are accused of abusing or neglecting a child, contact an Oklahoma City defense lawyer as quickly as possible. Attorney Ryan Coventon can represent you during the investigation to help protect you from having your words and explanations used against you. Call to find out how you can take proactive steps in fighting a criminal charge and keeping your family together after an allegation of abuse.

Child Abuse Laws in Oklahoma

Oklahoma has a bad reputation when it comes to child abuse. The state has some of the worst rates of domestic violence, including violence against children, in the nation. The state has been criticized for its handling of child abuse and neglect cases, and Oklahoma DHS has been subjected to federal and class action lawsuits for failing to appropriately address allegations of abuse and neglect.

In 2013, the agency investigated more than 57,000 allegations of child abuse and neglect in Oklahoma. Abuse and neglect were substantiated in 11,418 cases.

The fact that more than 45,500 cases were unsubstantiated shows just how easily a family may fall under investigation by DHS and law enforcement.

But nearly 12,000 substantiated cases of abuse are far too many, and Oklahoma law harshly penalizes those who are convicted of child abuse.

In 21 O.S. § 843.5, Oklahoma law prohibits the physical abuse, sexual abuse, or neglect of a child.

It is important to note that state law treats actual child abuse or neglect and “enabling” or “permitting” child abuse equally. Under Oklahoma’s failure to protect laws, a parent or caregiver who allows his or her child to be under the supervision of someone who abuses that child may face the same penalties as the abuser.

Child abuse and child neglect, and enabling child abuse or neglect, are all punishable by a maximum sentence of life in prison. In most cases, a parent or caregiver will receive far less than the maximum punishment, with life sentences typically reserved for “heinous and shocking” abuse or neglect, and those cases resulting in serious bodily injury.

Sexual abuse of a child under 12 is punishable by 25 years to life.

What is Considered Child Abuse?

Many people were brought up under the adage, “Spare the rod and spoil the child,” and it is not uncommon for parents to discipline in the way they themselves were disciplined as children.  In some families, this can create a cycle of abuse when parents are not given the resources necessary to develop appropriate parenting skills.

However, spanking, in and of itself, is not considered child abuse under Oklahoma law.

In 10A O.S. § 1-1-105, state law defines child abuse as follows:

"Abuse" means harm or threatened harm or failure to protect from harm or threatened harm to the health, safety, or welfare of a child by a person responsible for the child's health, safety, or welfare, including but not limited to nonaccidental physical or mental injury, sexual abuse, or sexual exploitation. Provided, however, that nothing contained in this act shall prohibit any parent from using ordinary force as a means of discipline including, but not limited to, spanking, switching, or paddling.

A parent must be very careful in determining “ordinary force.” Corporal punishment that leaves marks upon the child’s body will likely be considered excessive force, and thus, child abuse.

In Oklahoma, teachers, doctors, and others have a duty to report suspected abuse. For this reason, a concerned adult who is not satisfied with an explanation for a child’s injuries will likely contact authorities to report possible abuse.

If you are questioned about possible abuse in your home, decline to speak with police until you have contacted a lawyer.

What is Child Neglect?

The Oklahoma Children’s Code defines neglect as the failure to provide a child’s basic needs or to shield him or her from illegal activities and those which are not age appropriate:

"Neglect" means:

a. the failure or omission to provide any of the following:

(1) adequate nurturance and affection, food, clothing, shelter, sanitation, hygiene, or appropriate education,

(2) medical, dental, or behavioral health care,

(3) supervision or appropriate caretakers, or

(4) special care made necessary by the physical or mental condition of the child,

b. the failure or omission to protect a child from exposure to any of the following:

(1) the use, possession, sale, or manufacture of illegal drugs,

(2) illegal activities, or

(3) sexual acts or materials that are not age- appropriate, or

c. abandonment.

In some cases, a parent who is accused of child abuse will additionally be charged with neglect for failing to get medical attention for a child injured by abuse. Often, child abuse cases stem from a parent leaving a young child unsupervised, or from a parent whose substance abuse issues render him or her incapable of appropriately supervising the child.

Child Endangerment

In Oklahoma, a person may be charged with child endangerment under the following circumstances:

  • Knowingly permitting the physical or sexual abuse of a child
  • Knowingly allowing a child to be present where a drug is manufactured
  • Knowingly allowing a child to be in a vehicle driven by an impaired or intoxicated driver
  • Transporting a child while driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol

Child endangerment is a felony punishable by a maximum of 4 years in prison. However, a person responsible for the care of the child—a parent, guardian, or legal custodian, for example—would not likely be charged with child endangerment for “knowingly permitting” abuse, but would instead be charged with the more serious offense of enabling child abuse.

Oklahoma Domestic Violence Lawyer: Child Abuse and Neglect

To learn more about Oklahoma child abuse laws or to schedule a free, confidential consultation with an attorney who can help you, contact Coventon Criminal Defense at 405-417-3842 or submit our online case review form.