A Pennsylvania couple is facing trial after their pre-school-aged children were found to have detectable levels of cocaine and cocaine metabolites in their systems. According to a news report, the couple was arrested after an investigation prompted by a ChildLine abuse report filed by a Westmoreland County Children's Bureau caseworker, who ordered hair-exposure drug tests for the children after finding cocaine powder in the couple's home.
The couple face third-degree felony charges of endangering the welfare of their children. If convicted, they could face up to $15,000 in fines and up to seven years in prison.
Endangering the Welfare of Children
The crime of “Endangering welfare of children” in Pennsylvania is a broad one. It criminalizes any act that “knowingly endangers the welfare of the child by violating a duty of care, protection or support.”
One of the common issues in these situations is whether the defendant acted “knowingly.” Courts in Pennsylvania will look closely at the defendant's behavior to determine (1) whether the defendant was aware of their duty to protect the child; (2) whether the defendant was aware that the child was in a situation that posed a threat to their physical or psychological welfare, and (3) whether the defendant failed to act or acted so poorly that they were unlikely to protect the child's welfare.
Consuming Drugs Around Children
It's easy to see how consuming drugs, or even alcohol, around children, could lead to a situation where the children could be placed in danger. Even alcohol, as accepted in society as it is, can harm a child if a drink or bottle is left unattended, and an unsupervised child can access and consume it. In other situations, children who are in the area where drugs such as marijuana or “crack” cocaine are being smoked could inhale secondary smoke and, as a result, could test positive for the substances. Or where drug residue remains on surfaces in the home, children could come into contact with the drugs simply by touch and unknowingly consume the drugs while eating or drinking.
Pennsylvania Child Abuse Reporting
Whether by going to the doctor, to school, to day-care, or any of a number of other places, children in Pennsylvania will frequently come into contact with an adult who, by law, is required to report suspected child abuse through the ChildLine reporting system. The children don't need to show symptoms of the abuse; if they happen to mention a situation that reasonably leads the adult to believe that abuse may have occurred, that adult is legally required to report it. In these cases, as in the case of the couple reported above, an investigation is very likely to follow.
What to Do if You Are Investigated for Child Abuse or Other Crimes
If you are being investigated on suspicion of child abuse, endangering the welfare of a child, or drug-related offenses, you need the help of an experienced criminal defense attorney. Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team have been helping people for years who find themselves being investigated for or charged with child abuse, endangering the welfare of a child, and other child care-related crimes. The Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team understands how the law and the courts work in Pennsylvania, but most importantly, they understand that you have rights – and they are there to help you defend those rights.