In addition to state laws criminalizing child abuse, each state's child protective services investigate suspected child abuse cases. Here you will find key information about the investigation process, intervention and removal, false reporting, and more.
Investigating Child Abuse Cases
When a child abuse case involves an adult, law enforcement agencies such as police departments typically conduct the investigation. An investigation may include a law officer or case worker visiting and interviewing the child. Parents, guardians, and other possible witnesses such as doctors or teachers or other mandatory reporters may also be questioned during an investigation.
Intervention and Removal
Once an investigation is completed, the child protective service or law enforcement agency determines whether the evidence substantiates a charge of child abuse. If it does, and if there is a question about the child's safety or protection, then the agency will intervene.
There is a spectrum of intervention modalities. In less severe cases of child abuse for example, when a parent unwittingly leaves a child in a car while making a quick stop in a grocery store, intervention may be nothing more than requiring the parent to meet with a social worker to learn about the dangers of leaving a child unattended.
If it appears to the investigating agency that an abused child is in imminent danger, the agency may take the child from the parents and place the child temporarily in a foster home until the parents demonstrate their ability to provide the child a safe environment, free from harm or abuse. In extreme cases of child abuse, the investigating agency may seek assistance from a court to terminate the parental rights. When this happens, the child may be placed for permanent adoption.
Records and Registries
Child protective services maintain child abuse records. These records are kept in a central registry. In some states, parties, such as child care providers or adoption agencies, have access to that registry. The goal of the central registry is to help child protective services, and sometimes other parties, know whether or not an individual has a history of abusing children.
False reports of child abuse can come from children seeking attention or attempting to avoid reasonable forms of discipline. False reports of child abuse also may result from animosity between parents, such as when parents are in the midst of divorce and a custody battle over their children. The evidence in a child abuse case is sometimes nothing more than a young child's testimony.
Proponents of child abuse law reform maintain that police and other officials can easily manipulate a young child to support allegations of child abuse. The ramifications of a false report of child abuse can be serious: officials may remove children from their homes and place them in foster care or permanent new adoptive homes, emotionally scarring both children and parents.
Discipline and Abuse
Some parents feel that spanking or hitting a child is abusive behavior; other parents rely on spanking, or the threat of a spanking, to teach children to obey and behave. Using physical measures to discipline children is known as corporal punishment. In trying to prevent child abuse, legal and governmental agencies attempt to balance the parents' right to raise their children in the manner the parents feel is appropriate and in line with the child's right to be safe and unharmed.
Neglect and Abuse
Some child abuse cases are caused by a parent's negligence. One common, and oftentimes tragic, form of neglect occurs when a parent accidentally leaves a sleeping baby in a car on a warm day. In the sun, the interior of a car can heat within minutes to more than 100 degrees, temperatures that a baby cannot survive.
Many states will charge negligent parents differently based on the circumstances of the event, the intent and mental state of the parent(s), and the severity of its outcome. Because specific charges for negligence vary on a state-by-state basis it is important to speak to a lawyer who is familiar with your state's laws if you have questions about potential outcomes.
Have Questions About Child Abuse? Talk to an Attorney
Child abuse cases are a very serious matter. If you or someone you know suspects a case of child abuse, consider contacting the authorities immediately. If you have legal questions about child abuse in your city, contact a local family law attorney today for more information.