Child Abuse and Neglect Laws

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 What is the Child Abuse and Neglect?

The Child Welfare Organization defines child abuse and neglect as any recent act or failure to act on the part of a parent or caretaker, which results in death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse, or exploitation (including sexual abuse as determined under the law). It also includes any act or failure to act which presents an imminent risk of serious harm (Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act).

The definition of “caretaker” or caregiver includes the following:

  • A child’s parent, stepparent, guardian, or any household member entrusted with the responsibility for a child’s health or welfare and;
  • Any other person entrusted with responsibility for a child’s welfare, whether in the child’s home, a relative’s home, a school setting, a child care setting (including babysitting), a foster home, a group care facility, or any other comparable setting. As such “caregiver” includes, but is not limited to school teachers, babysitters, school bus drivers, and camp counselors.

Furthermore, the caregiver definition should be construed broadly and inclusively to cover any person who at the time in question is entrusted with a degree of responsibility for the child. Moreover, neglect includes failure by a caregiver, either deliberately or through negligence or inability, to take those actions necessary to provide a child with minimally adequate food, clothing, shelter, medical care, or other essential care.

What are Some Reporting Requirements Laws for Child Abuse and Neglect?

All states have their reporting guidelines through their county websites. For instance, in Maryland, all citizens should report suspected abuse or neglect to the local department of social services or a local law enforcement agency. Ensuring the safety of Maryland’s children is an obligation shared by all citizens and organizations. If you are a health care practitioner, educator, human service worker, or law enforcement officer, you are mandated by law to report both orally and in writing any suspected child abuse or neglect.

Moreover, you should report your suspicion to the local department in the jurisdiction where you suspect the abuse or neglect took place. Oral reports should be made immediately. Additionally, a mandated reporter must complete a written report within 48 hours of contact which discloses the suspected abuse or neglect.

When drafting a report of suspected abuse, the report must include at a minimum:

  • The name and home address of the child and the parent or other individual responsible for the care of the child;
  • The present location of the child;
  • The age of the child (or approximate age);
  • Names and ages of other children in the home;
  • The nature and extent of injuries or sexual abuse or neglect of the child;
  • Any information relayed by the individual making the report of previous possible physical or sexual abuse or neglect;
  • The information available to the individual reporting that might aid in establishing the cause of the injury or neglect and;
  • The identity of the individual or individuals responsible for abuse or neglect.

The person receiving your report will require additional information to obtain the most comprehensive and complete information possible to inform decision-making and subsequent agency actions. Child Protective Services seeks to impact both safety and change, information on the family’s strengths as well as difficulties will be requested. All reports of suspected child abuse are immune from civil liability unless they are purposefully erroneous or malicious.

Another example comes from the Nebraska State law, which requires that any person who believes a child has been or is being abused make a report. The identity of the person who made the report is confidential and cannot be released. Furthermore, the regulations require that all reports that meet the definition of abuse and neglect are examined. Some professionals are mandated by their job to report child abuse or neglect and may lose their professional licensure or even go to jail if they fail to report it.

For instance, if you are contacted by a worker because there is a report regarding your child(ren), the worker cannot tell you who made the call, even if he or she knows the Reporter’s identity. It is best to know that this information remains confidential.

Moreover, according to the U.S Department of Justice, the federal legislation provides a foundation for states by identifying a set of acts or behaviors that define child abuse and neglect, but each state has its definitions of abuse and neglect based on these standards. Therefore, it is recommended to visit the local county’s website for more information on these issues.

For law enforcement, the investigation of child abuse is a critical and sensitive issue that impacts the safety and well-being of children nationwide. Law enforcement personnel have the difficult task of determining if a child’s injury is accidental or deliberately inflicted.

To assist law enforcement to differentiate between physical abuse and accidental injury, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) published research, which outlines the critical questions to ask when making these judgments. Additionally, the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) has supported a series of research projects characterizing pediatric injuries, modeling injury risk, and building an evidence base to determine the likelihood of abuse as the cause of injuries in children.

Furthermore, data from research supported by NIJ have also displayed that childhood abuse increased the risk of crime in adulthood. It often does this by promoting antisocial behavior during adolescence, followed by the formation of relationships with antisocial romantic partners and peers in adulthood. The challenges become more complex for youth who have been both victims of abuse and engaged in delinquent acts, as they may enter the juvenile justice system without a strong family support system.

What are the Public Health Consequences of Failing to Report Child Abuse and Neglect?

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) highlights that child abuse and neglect have serious public health consequences and adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). They can have long-term impacts on health, opportunity, and well-being. This issue encompasses all types of abuse and neglect of a child under the age of 18 by a parent, caregiver, or another person in a custodial role (such as a religious leader, a coach, a teacher) that results in harm, the potential for harm, or threat of harm to a child.

In general, there are four common types of abuse and neglect:

  • Physical abuse is the intentional use of physical force that can result in physical injury. Examples include hitting, kicking, shaking, burning, or other shows of force against a child;
  • Sexual abuse involves pressuring or forcing a child to engage in sexual acts. It includes behaviors such as fondling, penetration, and exposing a child to other sexual activities;
  • Emotional abuse means behaviors that harm a child’s self-worth or emotional well-being. Examples include name-calling, shaming, rejecting, withholding love, and threatening and;
  • Neglect is the failure to meet a child’s basic physical and emotional needs. These needs include housing, food, clothing, education, access to medical care, and having feelings validated and responded to.

When Do I Need to Contact A Lawyer?

If you have concerns about child abuse and neglect laws it is highly recommended to seek out a local family law attorney. They can help you comprehend the different reporting laws and can show how you can help in the situation.


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