Newborn Left Unattended In Vehicle For 15 Minutes Found To Be Neglected

Is it ever permissible to leave a newborn infant unattended in a vehicle? Although I don’t believe any court has said that it is never permissible to leave a newborn so unattended, this is clearly the direction that the courts are moving, and it would not be surprising if some appellate court came to such an conclusion in the near future. This can be demonstrated by the Second Department’s decision last Tuesday in Matter of D.-C. (Anonymous), Samuel v Samuel C., 2007 NY Slip Op 04290. In that case, a father left a three-week old child unattended in an unheated vehicle for approximately 15 minutes on a November evening. The heat in the vehicle was turned off, and the infant was completely covered by a blanket. On these facts, the Second Department found that the child was neglected. In doing so, it reversed the Family Court, which had dismissed the child protective proceeding. A “neglected child” is defined as one “whose physical, mental or emotional condition has been impaired or is in imminent danger of becoming impaired as a result of the failure of [the] parent . . . to exercise a minimum degree of care . . . in providing the child with proper supervision or guardianship” (Family Court Act § 1012[f][i][B]). The Second Department commented on the facts as follows:

These circumstances depict lack of attention to the special needs of a newborn and, standing alone, constitute neglect.

Thus, without any note as to the actual temperature inside or outside the vehicle, or whether the child was actually in any imminent danger of becoming impaired, there was a finding of neglect. Thus, one could conclude that the mere fact that an infant is left alone could be sufficient to support a finding of neglect. It should be noted that a finding of neglect need only be proved by a preponderance of the evidence (see Family Court Act § 1046[b][i]).

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