Penal Code 270 PC – California’s Child Neglect Laws


Who can be charged with “child neglect”? (Penal Code 270 PC)

When is child neglect a crime? Can the parents go to jail or lose custody of the children? In this video, criminal defense lawyer Neil Shouse explains the crime as found in Penal Code 270 PC. Under California Penal Code 270 PC, a parent or guardian can be charged with child neglect if he or she has custody or responsibility for a minor child (one under 18 years of age), and fails to provide the child with what the law calls “Necessities.” These include food, clothing, shelter and medicine. Child neglect is a misdemeanor under California law. Penal Code 270 allows for punishment of up to one year in county jail. Moreover, a child neglect case often results in CPS removing the child from the home. More info at

Penal Code 270 PC
is the California statute that defines the offense of “child neglect.” A parent commits this crime if he/she willfully fails to provide a necessity for a minor child without a legal excuse. A necessity includes things such as clothing, food, medicine and shelter.

This code section states:

“If a parent of a minor child willfully omits, without lawful excuse, to furnish necessary clothing, food, shelter or medical attendance, or other remedial care for his or her child, he or she is guilty of a misdemeanor…”


  • a dad does not take his 12-year-old son to the doctor when he is ill.
  • an adoptive parent does not give her daughter warm clothes during winter.
  • a mom does not properly feed her 8-year-old despite having the means to do so.


A defendant can raise a legal defense to challenge a 270 PC charge. Common defenses include:


Most violations of these laws are misdemeanors. This is opposed to a felony charge or an infraction.

The offense is punishable by:

  • custody in county jail for up to one year, and/or
  • a maximum fine of $2,000.

A judge can award misdemeanor (or summary) probation in lieu of jail time.

Our California criminal defense attorneys will highlight the following in this article:

minor stooped in the corner of a room
A parent commits "child neglect" if he/she willfully fails to provide a necessity for a minor child without a legal excuse.

1. What is considered child neglect in California?

A prosecutor must prove the following to convict a person of child neglect:

  1. the defendant was the parent of a minor child,
  2. the defendant failed to provide a necessity for that minor, and
  3. the failure to provide was willful and without lawful excuse.1

A “necessity” under this statute includes:

  • clothing,
  • food,
  • shelter,
  • medical care, and
  • remedial care (such as help from an official religion).2

Note that “willfully,” as used above, means when a person commits an act:

  • willingly, or
  • on purpose.3

A “willful” failure to do something contrasts with something done negligently.

Questions often arise under these laws on the meaning of the statute's use of:

  • “minor” and “parent,” and
  • “lawful excuse.”

1.1. Minor and parent

A minor, for purposes of this statute, is a person under 18 years old.4

Note that the statute also protects unborn children. This means:

  • an unborn child's parents are obligated to,
  • provide necessities for that child.5

Parent” is defined quite broadly under PC 270. It includes all:

  • legal parents of children,
  • adoptive parents,
  • and others who hold themselves out as parents.6

It also includes:

  • the husband of any woman who gives birth to a baby,
  • while the husband is living with her.7

A parent does not include:

  • someone who no longer has any rights or obligations in connection with the minor,
  • due to a court declaration.8

1.2. Lawful excuse

Penal Code 270 requires a parent to:

  • do all that is reasonable,
  • in order to provide necessities for minor children.9

A parent has a lawful excuse for failing to do so if:

  1. through no fault of his or her own,
  2. he or she is unable to earn enough money, and
  3. does not have other income or assets to pay for those necessities.10

It is not a lawful excuse if:

  • the parent is unable to provide necessities because
  • he or she has unreasonably chosen to spend money on other things or has failed to diligently seek work.

Example: Mark is a single father living paycheck to paycheck. He suddenly loses his job and has no other source of income. He fails to adequately feed his seven-year-old daughter after a few weeks of unemployment.

Here, Mark is not guilty of neglect. He has a legal excuse because he lost his job through no fault of his own and he had no other source of income. He would be guilty, though, if he kept his job but failed to provide food because he spent his earnings on expensive car payments and fancy clothing.

Note that:

  • the law presumes there is no lawful excuse, and
  • the defendant has the burden of proving otherwise.11
attorneys working hard
A defendant can try to beat a neglect charge with a good legal defense.

2. Are there defenses to 270 PC?

A defendant can try to beat a neglect charge with a good legal defense.

Three common defenses are:

  1. no willful act,
  2. lawful excuse, and/or
  3. falsely accused.

2.1. No willful act

Recall that a person is only guilty under 270 PC if he willfully fails to provide a necessity. This means it is a defense for an accused to say that:

  • while he/she failed to provide a necessity,
  • the accused did not do so on purpose.

Perhaps, for example, the parent suddenly lost a job and had no money.

2.2. Lawful excuse

Also recall that it is not a crime under these laws if:

  • a parent failed to provide a necessity, but
  • had a lawful excuse for that failure.

A legal excuse, therefore, can form a valid defense. Perhaps, for example, parents were involved in a horrible accident and could not provide proper care for their child for a few weeks.

2.3. Falsely accused

False accusations are common under these laws. It may be the situation that one parent falsely blames another because

  • he/she wanted more money after a divorce, or
  • he/she was jealous or sought revenge.

It is a defense, then, for a parent to say that he/she was unjustly blamed.

man behind bars
A violation of this crime can result in a fine and/or jail time

3. Can a parent go to jail for child neglect?

Child neglect can bring both administrative and criminal penalties. Most violations of Penal Code 270 are misdemeanors.

The offense is punishable by:

  • custody in county jail for up to one year, and/or
  • a maximum fine of $2,000.12

In rare cases, Penal Code 270 may be punished as a felony. This happens if a parent fails to provide care after a court decides that he/she is a parent.13 This would happen, for instance, if:

  • the judge in a paternity suit determined that a man was a minor's father, and
  • the father still refused to provide necessities for the child.

As a felony, child neglect can be punished by:

  • up to one year in county jail, or
  • one year plus one day in a state prison, and/or
  • a fine of up to $2,000.14

4. Are there immigration consequences?

A conviction under these laws will generally not harm a person's immigration status.

Sometimes a non-citizen can be:

after being convicted of a California crime.

An example is when a non-citizen gets convicted of a crime involving moral turpitude.

PC 270 violations, however, are not this type of crime.

5. Can a person get a conviction expunged?

A person can get an expungement if convicted of child neglect.

An expungement is favorable since it:

  • removes many of the hardships,
  • associated with a conviction.

A judge will grant an expungement if a convicted party successfully completes:

  • probation, or
  • his jail term (whichever was imposed).

6. Does a conviction affect gun rights?

A conviction under 270 PC will only impact a person's gun rights if it is for felony child neglect.

California law says that convicted felons cannot:

  • own a gun, or
  • possess a gun.

Note, though, a conviction for misdemeanor neglect will not hurt a person's gun rights.

7. Can Child Protective Services remove a neglected child?

California's Child Protective Services (CPS) can remove a child if neglected.

The law states that removal is permitted in instances of child abuse. According to CPS, abuse occurs if:

  • a child is neglected by a parent or caretaker,
  • who fails to provide adequate food, clothing, shelter, medical care or supervision.15

Prior to removal, CPS will try to provide support to keep a child in the family's home.

But if it is determined that:

  • the child cannot remain in the home,
  • even after support has been given,

foster placement gets arranged.

8. Are there related offenses?

There are three crimes related to child neglect. These are:

  1. child abuse – PC 273d,
  2. child endangerment – PC 273a, and
  3. failure to supervise child's school attendance – PC 270.1a.

8.1. Child abuse – PC 273d

Penal Code 273d PC is California's law against child abuse. This section makes it a crime for a person to:

  • impose physical injury, or
  • cruel punishment

on a child.

Note that child neglect does not require any type of physical injury on a child.

8.2. Child endangerment – PC 273a

Penal Code 273a PC is California's criminal “child endangerment” law. It punishes someone who willfully exposes a child to:

  • pain,
  • suffering, or
  • danger.

Note that:

  • this statute punishes the possibility of harm to a child,
  • while PC 273d punished actual harm to a child.

8.3. Failure to supervise child's school attendance – PC 270.1a

Penal Code 270.1(a) PC is the California truancy law that makes it a crime if:

  • a parent or guardian,
  • does not provide reasonable supervision of a “child's” school attendance.

A “child” for purposes of this section is a minor age six years or older and in grades kindergarten through 8th grade.

For additional help...

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Call us for help at (855) LAW-FIRM

For additional guidance or to discuss your case with a criminal defense attorney, we invite you to contact us at Shouse Law Group.

For information on child neglect charges in Nevada and Colorado, please see our articles on:

Legal References:

  1. CALCRIM No. 2981 - Failure to Provide. Judicial Council of California Criminal Jury Instructions (2017 edition).

  2. See same.

  3. See same.

  4. See same.

  5. California Family Code 7822.

  6. California Family Code 7540.

  7. California Family Code 7541.

  8. California Family Code 7822.

  9. CALCRIM No. 2981 - Failure to Provide. See also People v. Caseri (1933) 129 Cal.App. 88.

  10. CALCRIM No. 2981 - Failure to Provide See also People v. Wallach (1923) 62 Cal.App. 385.

  11. People v. Gruntz (1994) 29 Cal.App.4th 412.

  12. California Penal Code 270 PC.

  13. See same.

  14. See same.

  15. See Department of Social Services website.

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