Endangering the Welfare of a Child

The laws of New York provide for two different types of child endangerment statutes. New York Penal Law Section 260.10, Endangering the Welfare of a Child creates criminal punishments for adults who behave in a way that is potentially harmful to a child. This criminal offense is often called contributing to the delinquency of a minor in other states.

Important defenses apply, especially when the person accused may have acted inappropriately but not in a way that would rise to the level of a criminal offense. In other cases, false or exaggerated allegations can lead to an unfounded charge of child endangerment.

When a parent is charged with the crime of Endangering the Welfare of a Child, the authorities will often file a family offense petition in New York's Family Court. Additionally, neglect, maltreatment, and/or child abuse investigations can be initiated by New York City's Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) or Child Protective Services (CPS).

Attorney for Child Endangerment Crimes in Queens, NY

If you have been charged with Endangering the Welfare of a Child in New York City, you will want to seek legal representation as soon as possible. Criminal defense attorney Rochelle S. Berliner represents clients throughout such areas as Queens, Manhattan, Brooklyn, and the Bronx.

Hiring an experienced attorney early in the case can often lead to the best results because your attorney can gather favorable evidence and assert defenses to fight the charges.

Types of Charges for Child Endangerment under New York Law

New York law currently provides for only a misdemeanor version of child endangerment. Under both New York Penal Law § 260.10(1) and (2) the crime is a class A misdemeanor. However, the New York Legislature has proposed a felony version of Endangering the Welfare of a Child.

Subsection 1 of New York's Penal Law § 260.10 provides that any man or woman who intentionally acts in a way likely to cause injury to the physical or mental welfare of a child, or who intentionally acts in a way that could injury the moral welfare of a child 16 years old or younger is guilty of the crime of Endangering the Welfare of a Child. This subsection specifically includes authorizing or directing a child to work in a job that involves "substantial risk of danger to his life or health."

The first version of child endangerment can be charged under a wide variety of circumstances. For example, this crime can be charged when law enforcement believes that the person accused has:

  • committed an act of domestic violence or assault in front of a child;
  • driven under the influence of alcohol or while impaired by drugs (DWI) with a child in the vehicle (this is now also a felony DWI charge under Leandra’s Law);
  • sold drugs in the presence of a child; or
  • provided the child with alcohol or drugs.

New York's child endangerment statute does not require that the prosecutor prove that any injury actually occurred. Instead, the statute is focused on the "potential" for injury to the child either physically, mentally, or morally.

Subsection 2 of Endangering the Welfare of a Child applies only to the child's parent or guardian. The parent or guardian (or someone standing in for the parent or guardian) is tasked with protecting the child and providing food, shelter and proper medical care. The failure to provide for these basic needs can result in a criminal prosecution when it is alleged that the parent or guardian refuses to exercise "reasonable diligence" in the control of such child under 17 to prevent the child from becoming: 

  • abused;
  • neglected;
  • child in need of supervision (often called "Person in Need of Supervision" or PINS); or
  • a juvenile delinquent.

The term "child in need of supervision" is defined in the Family Court Act. This criminal charge has been alleged against parents:

  • who fail to provide the child with basic medical care;
  • who fail to provide food and shelter to the child;
  • who allow an underaged child to possess alcohol or drugs; or
  • who fail to use reasonable diligence in making sure the child attends school. 


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When the Child is a Witness to Domestic Violence

In many cases in which an individual is charged with a crime of domestic violence and a minor child is a witness to the incident, the law enforcement officer may charge the person with Endangering the Welfare of a Child. Under this type of charge it is not necessary that the child suffered any physical abuse. Instead, it may be sufficient under certain circumstances that the child was a witness to the acts of physical abuse against another person.

Defenses to these types of charges often involve a denial of the underlying act of abuse. Additionally, if the person charged was acting in self-defense then this might also operate as a defense to the charge of knowingly acting in a manner that endangered the welfare of a child.

In some of these cases, the alleged victim of the assault makes false or exaggerated allegations of domestic violence and includes an allegation that a minor child witnessed the abuse especially when the child is too young to report what really occurred.


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Statutory Defenses to Endangering the Welfare of a Child

Under New York Penal Law § 260.11, a person shall not be convicted of Endangering the Welfare of a Child or the attempt to commit the crime when the only evidence is the testimony of a child who is not capable of consent because of mental incapacity or defect. Instead, the law requires additional evidence to sustain the conviction for endangering the welfare of a minor child.

Under New York Penal Law § 260.15, in a prosecution for child endangerment based upon an alleged refusal or failure to provide medical care or treatment to a sick child, the law provides for an affirmative defense if the person accused:

  • is a parent, guardian, or other person legally charged with the custody and care of the child;
  • is a member of an organized religious group or church with a set of tenets that provide for prayer as the principal treatment of illness; and
  • the parent or guardian treated or caused another to treat the sick child in accordance with such tenets.

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Find a Lawyer for Child Endangerment Prosecutions in New York City

Contact a Queens criminal defense lawyer at the Law Office to discuss the particular facts and circumstances of your case if you have been charged with Endangering the Welfare of a Child or contributing to the delinquency of a minor. Rochelle S. Berliner is experienced in fighting these cases throughout New York City.

Law Office represents clients facing domestic violence charges in all boroughs of New York City, including Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Bronx.

Call Law Office today or submit an online form to schedule a free, confidential consultation.

This article was last updated on Thursday, March 18, 2021.