Because children are dependent on adults for so much in their lives and lack the agency to escape an abusive situation, they need special help if their parents become abusive or neglectful towards them. In these circumstances, Child Protective Services will ask a court to take action to protect the child at risk.
North Carolina has laws that govern child neglect, abuse and dependency. The state’s juvenile court will open cases that involve violations of these laws. The state court website explains when a court may open a juvenile case.
The key question in opening a juvenile case is whether it actually involves a juvenile. In general, the state defines a juvenile as any individual in the state younger than 18 years old. There are a few exceptions. Some older adolescents may become emancipated from their parents, meaning they have legal independence. Other juveniles may be exempt if they serve in the military.
Juvenile cases apply to neglect from different kinds of abusers, not just parents. CPS may receive word that a person acting as a guardian of a child is committing the abuse or neglect. It may be a different relative like a grandparent or an aunt or an uncle. It may not be a blood relative at all, but a guardian or custodian who has custody of the child.
The legal equation changes when a primary caretaker is not the abusing party. Some children become targets of abuse from third parties when left temporarily in their care. These parties may include teachers or babysitters. In these situations, a court will not open a juvenile case. Instead, the primary guardian may seek charges against the third party for the crime of child abuse.