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Suffolk County Drops Neglect Charges Against Sexually Active Teens’ Parents

In an order signed Friday, the Suffolk County Office of Child Protective Services has dismissed neglect charges brought against the families of two teenagers because they had failed to stop their children from having consensual sex.

The County had charged the parents with neglect after the teenager gave birth to her second child when she was under the legal age of consent. The County had also brought charges against the young woman’s husband (then boyfriend), the father of both of her children, who was 19 years old at the time.

When the New York Civil Liberties Union intervened, the County agreed to drop its charges. On Friday the Judge ruled that the allegations were “unfounded” and sealed the records in the case.

“If a teen’s sexual activity were equivalent to neglect, then close to half of parents with teenagers would be at risk of neglect charges,” said Galen Sherwin, NYCLU Reproductive Rights Project Director. “Investigating cases involving allegations of teen sexual activity not only deters teens from seeking prenatal and other health care, it also discourages parents from talking to their teenagers about sex.”

Over 46% of high school students in New York are sexually active. Recognizing this, New York courts have determined that parents of sexually active or pregnant minors are not automatically guilty of abuse or neglect simply because they know their teens are having sex or whether they are able to stop them.

“There are serious cases of child abuse and neglect that merit intervention to protect our children, but this was not one of them,” said Donna Lieberman, NYCLU Executive Director. “The County clearly overstepped its authority. I should think the County would have better things to do with its time than prosecuting the families of this young couple for supporting them.”

The NYCLU is asking the Office of Children and Family Services to formally end the outmoded and counterproductive policy of investigating abuse and neglect reports based solely on consensual teen sexual activity.

“My husband and I have loving and supportive families,” said the young woman who was the subject of the child abuse report, and who wishes to remain anonymous. “To claim our parents were neglectful because I got pregnant, or because we decided to raise our children together, makes no sense. This was our family’s private decision.”

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