Parents getting their kids ready to go back to school need to know about their obligation to follow the law.  This week, on July 28, 2019, the new Washington law goes into effect mandating the MMR vaccine for every child enrolled in public and private schools and daycare centers.  The new law in Washington removes the prior law that gave parents an option to exempt their children from the MMR vaccine based on a personal or philosophical belief. Washington law still provides exemptions based on religious and medical grounds, but these grounds must be documented on the Department of Health Certificate of Exemption form.  The personal/philosophical exemptions are still available for all other immunizations, other than the MMR, but the exemption form is required. Parents, school staff, and daycare workers who need more information can find answers to all their questions on the Department of Health website.  The new law also requires employees and volunteers at child care centers to provide immunization records indicating they have received the MMR vaccine or proof of immunity.

A Call For Mandatory Immunizations

After a measles outbreak this past spring in areas of the country where large number of parents had chosen not to immunize their children, a call for mandatory immunizations arose as a matter of social responsibility.  A nationally syndicated columnist , Robert Reich, explained it in simple terms: “The core issue here is the common good. If enough people are vaccinated, everyone benefits. But if enough people decide to opt out of vaccinations, for whatever reason, they put everyone at a higher risk of contracting disease.” 

Reich acknowledges that parents have a right to choose what happens to their own children, but the right isn’t absolute. He gives examples of laws that control parental actions, including court decisions that have mandated that children with cancer receive chemotherapy despite their parent’s objections. He also raises the fact that courts have the power to remove children from the parent’s custody when they are abused.  This begs the question as to whether the failure of a parent to have their child immunized, as mandated by law, can be considered child abuse? Can it affect child custody decisions, when the law mandates that it is in the best interest of the child to be immunized?

Let’s examine the definitions of child abuse and child neglect in the family law chapter, 26.44 of the Washington State code. 

"Abuse or neglect" means sexual abuse, sexual exploitation, or injury of a child by any person under circumstances which cause harm to the child's health, welfare, or safety, excluding conduct permitted under RCW 9A.16.100; or the negligent treatment or maltreatment of a child by a person responsible for or providing care to the child. An abused child is a child who has been subjected to child abuse or neglect as defined in this section.

Negligent treatment or maltreatment" means an act or a failure to act, or the cumulative effects of a pattern of conduct, behavior, or inaction, that evidences a serious disregard of consequences of such magnitude as to constitute a clear and present danger to a child's health, welfare, or safety, including but not limited to conduct prohibited under RCW 9A.42.100.

Our Bellevue Washington Child Custody Attorneys Are Here To Help

Legal actions affecting child custody involve a multitude of laws, and parents need to be supported by competent counsel, knowledgeable in the law, ready to address any issue. If you need assistance regarding your parental obligations, the Seattle family law lawyers at Molly B. Kenny, LLC, are ready to help. Call us today at (425) 460-0550 or fill out our contact form to schedule your consultation.

Molly B. Kenny
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Divorce and Child Custody Attorney Serving Bellevue and Seattle Washington
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