Posted on September 26, 2021

Child Endangerment In Illinois

Being a parent isn’t easy but there are some pretty low bars for minimum standards as a parent in Illinois. First and foremost: keep your children safe.

In fact, it’s a crime to put your children in danger in Illinois.

The Crime Of Child Endangerment In Illinois

“A person commits endangering the life or health of a child when he or she knowingly: (1) causes or permits the life or health of a child under the age of 18 to be endangered; or (2) causes or permits a child to be placed in circumstances that endanger the child’s life or health.” 720 ILCS 5/12C-5(a)

The statute only specifies one specific type of child endangerment, leaving a child in a car unattended.

“A trier of fact may infer that a child 6 years of age or younger is unattended if that child is left in a motor vehicle for more than 10 minutes.

“Unattended” means either: (i) not accompanied by a person 14 years of age or older; or (ii) if accompanied by a person 14 years of age or older, out of sight of that person.” 720 ILCS 5/12C-5(b-c)

The Illinois statute outlawing endangering the life or health of a child is extremely vague.

Outside of leaving a child in a car alone, almost anything could be endangering a child.

The child need not be harmed to establish endangerment. The child just needs to be exposed to possible harm.

“[B]y its plain meaning, the term [‘endanger’] refers to a potential or possibility of injury. The term does not refer to conduct that will result or actually results in harm, but rather to conduct that could or might result in harm.”  People v. Collins, 214 Ill.2d 206, 215, 291 Ill.Dec. 686, 824 N.E.2d 262 (2005)

Almost anything can qualify as possible danger in today’s modern world.

“[I]t is an unfortunate fact of modern urban life that the more populated the area, the greater the likelihood that some ill will befall a young child who is left unattended in a public place. A young child unattended in a public setting is easy prey for social predators who may happen by. Legal reporters in our law libraries are rife with tragic examples confirming this observation. The danger is no less real because the actual occurrence of such an incident is a random event.” People v. Jordan, 843 NE 2d 870 – Ill: Supreme Court 2006

The only real restraint on whether an adult endangered a child’s health or life is whether they did so knowingly.

“Even though an actual injury is required to convict for injuring the health of a child, to convict for endangering the life of a child, the person caring for the child must wilfully cause that child’s life to be placed in danger of probable harm…Thus, endangering the life of a child involves placing the child’s life into danger of probable physical or mental damage whereas injuring the health of a child involves actually damaging, harming, or hurting that child’s health.” People v. Wilkenson, 635 NE 2d 463 – Ill: Appellate Court, 1st Dist., 3rd Div. 1994

Willful conduct is synonymous with knowing conduct. “Conduct performed knowingly or with knowledge is performed wilfully, within the meaning of a statute using the latter term, unless the statute clearly requires another meaning.” 720 ILCS 5/4-5(b)

To prove endangerment of a child in Illinois, an adult would have to purposefully put the child in danger and not just be negligent such as leaving a door unlocked where a child could wander into the street).

But, if a child obviously needs help, an adult…any adult must provide that help or be guilty of child endangerment.

“If immediate or emergency medical attention is required from a child’s custodian, it should not matter that such custodian is not the primary care provider or for that matter a legally designated surrogate.” People v. Berg, 525 NE 2d 573 – Ill: Appellate Court, 3rd Dist. 1988

The Criminal Punishment Of Child Endangerment In Illlinois

“[Endangering the life or health of a child] is a Class A misdemeanor.” 750 ILCS 5/12C-5(d)

A class A misdemeanor can carry a possible prison sentence. “The sentence of imprisonment shall be a determinate sentence of less than one year.” 730 ILCS 5/5-4.5-55

But, there probably won’t be actual jail time. “A parent, who is found to be in violation of this Section with respect to his or her child, may be sentenced to probation for this offense pursuant to Section 12C-15” 750 ILCS 5/12C-5(d)

“Whenever a parent of a child as determined by the court on the facts before it, pleads guilty to or is found guilty of, with respect to his or her child, child abandonment under Section 12C-10 of this Article or endangering the life or health of a child under Section 12C-5 of this Article, the court may, without entering a judgment of guilt and with the consent of the person, defer further proceedings and place the person upon probation upon the reasonable terms and conditions as the court may require.” 720 ILCS 5/12C-15(a)

Subsequent findings of guilt for endangering the life or health of a child (or, god forbid, the death of a child) will have much more serious consequences.

“A second or subsequent violation of this Section is a Class 3 felony. A violation of this Section that is a proximate cause of the death of the child is a Class 3 felony for which a person, if sentenced to a term of imprisonment, shall be sentenced to a term of not less than 2 years and not more than 10 years.” 750 ILCS 5/12C-5(d)

DCFS And Child Endangerment In Illinois

If there’s an allegation of child endangerment in Illinois, The Department of Children And Family Services is going to investigate.

“DCFS is empowered to provide child welfare services aimed at protecting and promoting the health, safety and welfare of children; assuring safe and adequate care of children away from their homes, in cases where the child cannot be returned home or cannot be placed for adoption; and restoring to their families children who have been removed, by providing services to the child and the families when the child can be cared for at home without endangering the child’s health and safety.” Nichol v. Stass, 735 NE 2d 582 – Ill: Supreme Court 2000

DCFS can immediately take a child out of a dangerous situation based on their own assessment of the child’s health and safety needs.

“A designated employee of the Department…may take or retain temporary protective custody of the child without the consent of the person responsible for the child’s welfare, if (1) he has reason to believe that the child cannot be cared for at home or in the custody of the person responsible for the child’s welfare without endangering the child’s health or safety” 325 ILCS 5/5

A subsequent court hearing can also remove children from a dangerous situation.

“Whenever the parents are unable to properly care for their children the court…has inherent power to deprive them of custody and appoint a suitable person to act as guardian.” The People ex rel. Ryan v. Sempek, 147 NE 2d 295 – Ill: Supreme Court 1958

Child Endangerment And Supervised Parenting Time

There are usually two parents and, if the child is in danger, the child is only in danger around one of the parents. This means that the child will be put into the care of the non-dangerous parent and the other parent will have supervised parenting time until that parent is no longer deemed a threat to the child.

After an endangerment incident, whatever existing parenting plan will be modified immediately. Normally, there’s a 2 year waiting period to modify parenting time “unless the court permits it to be made on the basis of affidavits that there is reason to believe the child’s present environment may endanger seriously his or her mental, moral, or physical health or significantly impair the child’s emotional development.” 750 ILCS 5/610.5

A hearing will then be scheduled to modify the parenting time of the dangerous parent.

“After a hearing, if the court finds by a preponderance of the evidence that a parent engaged in any conduct that seriously endangered the child’s mental, moral, or physical health or that significantly impaired the child’s emotional development, the court shall enter orders as necessary to protect the child.” 750 ILCS 5/603.10(a)

Endangerment is a tough standard to meet because a finding of endangerment means the removal of a parent’s “fundamental right of parents to make childrearing decisions” Troxel v. Granville, 530 U.S. 57 (2000)

“The endangerment standard is an extraordinary finding that is onerous, stringent, and rigorous. It is more stringent than the best interests standard, which is used to determine custody.” Pleasant v. Pleasant, 628 NE 2d 633 – Ill: Appellate Court, 1st Dist., 3rd Div. 1993

“The seriously endangered standard is onerous, stringent, and rigorous to meet because liberal
visitation is the rule and restricted visitation is the exception.” Heldebrandt v. Heldebrandt, 251
Ill.App.3d 950, 957 (1993)(citations omitted)

Upon a formal finding of endangerment of a child, an llinois domestic relations court will then make rulings which could include “a reduction, elimination, or other adjustment of the parent’s decision-making responsibilities or parenting time, or both decision-making responsibilities and parenting time” 750 ILCS 5/603.10(a)(1)

In addition, or alternatively, an Illinois court can also order that all future visitation with a dangerous parent be “[S]upervis[ed]” 750 ILCS 5/603.10(a)(2)

After a dangerous incident involving a child a court is certain to order “individual counseling for the child, family counseling for one or more of the parties and the child, or parental education for one or more of the parties” if the court finds that “[T]he child’s physical health is endangered or that the child’s emotional development is impaired.” 750 ILCS 5/607.6

Dangerous behavior is too often a byproduct of drugs and/or alcohol…because no sober person would knowingly put their child in danger. Therefore, the court can make an order “requiring a parent to abstain from possessing or consuming alcohol or non-prescribed drugs while exercising parenting time with the child and within a specified period immediately preceding the exercise of parenting time” 750 ILCS 5/603.10(a)(5)

Subsequently, a court can order “a parent to complete a treatment program for perpetrators of abuse, for drug or alcohol abuse” 750 ILCS 5/603.10(a)(8)

Child endangerment is a serious charge. A conviction or finding of child endangerment could remove a parent from a child’s life. To learn more about how to ensure endangerment is found or how to protect yourself from the charge of child endangerment, contact my Chicago, Illinois family law firm to discuss your matter with an experienced Chicago divorce lawyer.

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Russell Knight

Russell D. Knight has been practicing family law as a Chicago divorce lawyer since 2006. Russell D. Knight amicably resolves tough cases while remaining a strong advocate for his client’s interests.

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