Child abuse may refer to various forms of illegal contact involving the physical, mental, emotion, sexual, or other mistreatment of a child or minor. Every state has different laws that prohibit forms of child abuse. 

A “child” or minor may vary depending on what the state age limit is. In most states, a child is defined as a minor who is younger than 18 years old. Some define minors as persons younger than 16 years old. Reporting child abuse is important for preventing such crimes. 

Child abuse can occur when a parent, guardian, or caretaker of the child inflicts serious physical or mental/emotional injury upon the child. It can also occur if the person creates a substantial risk of injury for the child, or commits any type of sexual abuse against the child.

Most state laws also prohibit related conduct under similar laws, known as child maltreatment or child neglect. This occurs when the parent or guardian places the child in imminent danger of harm, or fails to provide certain necessities for them. 

An example of this is where the parent fails to feed the child such that their health or well-being is endangered. Child abuse and child neglect can often overlap and/or occur at the same time.

What are Some Forms of Child Abuse?

Child abuse can take many forms and can involve a wide range of conduct. It can involve physical, mental/emotional abuse, and sexual abuse. Examples of these may include:

  • Physical Abuse: This consists of physical injury inflicted upon a child, with cruel or malicious intent. It can include the following types of acts or conduct:
    • Hitting or striking;
    • Kicking;
    • Pulling hair;
    • Biting;
    • Punching;
    • Grabbing;
    • Burning; or
    • Otherwise physically harming the child.
  • Mental or Emotional Abuse: This can include various patterns of behavior that disrupts the child’s normal psychological development, impedes their sense of self-worth, or otherwise damages their psyche. These can include:
    • Calling them names;
    • Teasing;
    • Insulting or demeaning them;
    • Depriving them of love, support, or guidance;
    • Making threats of physical or sexual abuse;
    • Forcing the child to watch the abuse of another person; and
    • Various other forms of psychological manipulation.
  • Sexual Abuse: By definition under law, children cannot legally consent to sexual activity due to their age. Therefore any sexual activity involving an adult and a minor is prohibited. Sexual abuse can involve:
    • A parent or guardian committing sexual acts with a child or minor;
    • A parent or guardian exposing themselves to a child;
    • Exploiting a child (involving them in sexual activity for reward or payment);
    • Engaging in any type of sexual behavior that harms the child’s physical or emotional well-being, including exposing to various sex-related acts or materials. 

Many cases of child abuse can involve several of these types of abuse. For instance, it is very common for physical abuse to be accompanied by mental and emotional abuse. Sexual abuse is often accompanied by physical abuse as well. 

Are There Any Standard Reporting Procedures for Child Abuse?

Statutes and laws exist in all 50 states governing mandatory reporting procedures. Generally, these procedures require that a report should be made immediately upon learning of the abuse of a child or children. There are two agencies that these reports should be generally be made out to: child protective services or law enforcement.

Certain persons MUST report child abuse to police authorities as soon as they find out about it. These include professionals such as:

  • Teachers or other educators;
  • Counselors;
  • Psychologists and psychiatrists;
  • Medical professionals;
  • Law enforcement personnel; and
  • Various other professionals, as decided by the local state law.

If I Am Suspecting Child Abuse, What are My Responsibilities?

If you are thinking of filing a child abuse report dealing with physical mental, or sexual abuse of a child, then you want to involve law enforcement. The investigation needs to be completed within a reasonably short period of time to avoid further harm to the child. Most States require that you file reports with other agencies such as social services and law enforcement as well as the prosecuting attorney.

If you suspect child abuse, then it is in the child’s best interest that a responsible and caring adult file a report on their behalf. While it seems like there are a lot of reasons not to, like potentially causing shame to the family or disrupting the child’s home life, the reality is that the child will always be better off away from individuals who look to harm them. 

What Kind of Information Must Be Included in a Report of Child Abuse?

A child abuse report should include: 

  • The name of the child;
  • Residence of the child;
  • Who the child’s parents or guardian(s) are; 
  • How old the child is; 
  • The kind and amount of injuries the child has experienced; and 
  • Any other relevant information.

Other relevant information can be a list of individuals who can back up your claim, any photos that document the abuse, and any other information that can help officials understand the situation. You may also want to include information as to whether the child has siblings. It is very likely that, if the child has siblings, then they are not the only child being abused.

Are There Any Special Situations with Child Abuse that Call for Different Procedures?

In cases such as those involving the death of a child or a child exposed to drugs, many states have enacted laws providing for different reporting procedures. Several states have passed laws requiring the reporting of irregular child deaths to a medical examiner or coroner. Other states have enacted laws that provide for the same reporting procedures but require drug exposure or a positive drug test the sole bases for reporting.

However, typically every report for child abuse will require that there be enough information for the local authorities to act upon. So while there may be special steps, ultimately the person filing the report must take action. 

Should I Hire an Attorney for Help Reporting Child Abuse?

If you suspect that a child is being abused, then it is in your best interests to hire a lawyer in your area for assistance. Child abuse is a very serious matter that can severely harm a child’s development. 

It is in your best interests to work with an attorney to ensure that the child is fully protected and that their abuser is properly handled under the appropriate criminal and family law procedures.