All states have laws designed to help protect children subjected to abuse and neglect.
Thousands of child abuse cases are reported in the country annually. Because of this, state laws created initiatives for child abuse prevention. Included in these initiatives is the mandatory reporting of child abuse and neglect.
Through these reporting laws, certain people called "mandatory reporters" must now notify authorities — Child Protective Services or law enforcement — about child abuse cases. Mandatory reporters are also encouraged to report suspected cases. These laws aim to raise awareness of child abuse and help child protective services intervene in child abuse cases. There are also various child protective services throughout the country. These services aim to ensure child welfare by providing child protection, safe childcare, and health care.
For instance, the Child Welfare Information Gateway promotes child safety. The organization also looks after the well-being of children and families. These organizations connect families and related professionals to resources, tools, and information covering child abuse, neglect, and more.
But, it is important to note that definitions of child abuse may vary in every state. And state statutes may have different approaches to addressing child abuse and neglect.
FindLaw has a breakdown of state statutes relating to child abuse.
Child Abuse and Neglect Laws State by State
Below is a sampling of state child abuse laws, which will give you a sense of how much they differ:
- Alabama state statute defines child abuse as harm or threatened harm of physical abuse, neglect, sexual abuse, sexual exploitation, nonnonaccidental/mental injury against a child under 18 years of age.
- The state law has a special rule that allows a child's parents to not seek medical help due to their religious beliefs. But, a judge can still decide if the child should have the necessary health care.
- Mandated reporters in Alabama are mostly healthcare professionals and healthcare organizations. Teachers and childcare facilities are also included.
- Mandated reporters are named in the Alabama Code, including healthcare providers, teachers, social workers, counselors, etc.
- Alaska's relevant statute defines "child abuse or neglect" as the physical injury or neglect, mental injury, sexual abuse, sexual exploitation, or maltreatment of a child under 18 years of age.
- The same statute also mentions "mental injury." This injury damages a child's emotional well-being and intellectual or psychological capacity.
- Alaska recognizes a religious exemption for parents, allowing the courts to dismiss an action against a parent seeking spiritual treatment. It must be through a recognized church or religion.
- The state law also names certain people who must report suspected child abuse. Due to their jobs, the mandated reporters must notify law enforcement agencies of domestic violence or alleged child abuse cases.
- Arizona revised statute defines child abuse as inflicting or allowing physical abuse, neglect, sexual abuse, sexual exploitation, emotional or mental injury, or abandonment of a child under the age of 18.
- Arizona also has a department to handle reports of child abuse and neglect. Here, reporters are encouraged to report instances of abuse or make referrals to law enforcement agencies.
- Arkansas's relevant statute defines child abuse in many different ways. An example of how the laws define child abuse is as intentionally, knowingly, or negligently without cause inflicting physical abuse, neglect, sexual abuse, sexual exploitation, abandonment, or emotional and mental injuries of a child under the age of 18.
- California statute defines child abuse as inflicting by nonaccidental means physical abuse, neglect, sexual abuse, or sexual exploitation of a child under the age of 18.
- The California Penal Code also names professionals as mandatory reporters who must report abuse and neglect cases. A subsection in the law discusses penalties and fines for failure to report cases of child abuse.
- Colorado laws prohibit threats to a child's health and welfare due to physical abuse, neglect, sexual abuse, sexual exploitation, emotional/mental injury, or abandonment.
- If the "cultural practice" rises to the level of child abuse, the child's or parent's consent cannot be an affirmative defense. Belief in the practice, as a rule of the victim's — or the victim's parent's culture — cannot be a defense.
- Mandated reporters include over 40 different professions.
- Connecticut state statute prohibits injuries inflicted by nonaccidental means involving physical abuse, neglect, sexual abuse, sexual exploitation, emotional maltreatment or mental harm, or abandonment.
- Connecticut's statute also has provisions relating to mandatory reporting, where individuals must report child abuse or child neglect to the Department of Children and Families (DCF) or law enforcement agencies.
- The relevant statute prohibits injuries inflicted by nonaccidental means. This involves physical abuse, neglect, sexual abuse, sexual exploitation, emotional or mental injury, or abandonment.
- Child Abuse laws in Delaware contain an exemption for religious purposes. Practices that would otherwise be child abuse are exempted if the actions were based on religious beliefs. This has been an ongoing debate in the state. It raises questions about balancing the protection of children and religious freedom.
District Of Columbia
- In the District of Columbia, child abuse is a serious offense. The acts that fall within this category include emotional abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse and exploitation, and neglect.
- The District of Columbia also established a rule to report cases of child abuse. These rules apply to mandatory reporters listed in the D.C. Code.
- The District of Columbia laws say that children who are being, in good faith, are under treatment solely by spiritual means, and prayer in an established religion, by itself, does not form the basis for a child to be neglected.
- Florida statutes prohibit willful or threatened acts where there is harm to children due to physical abuse, neglect, sexual abuse, sexual exploitation, abandonment, or emotional or mental injury.
- The code of Georgia prohibits injuries inflicted by nonaccidental means involving physical abuse, neglect, sexual abuse, or sexual exploitation. The state statute also has a category of child abuse relating to the child's exposure to illegal drugs.
- The parental rights in Georgia allow corporal punishment. But, this should not result in physical injury to the child.
- Mandatory reporters are likewise listed in the code. These people must report suspected cases of abuse or neglect. They can report it to social services, the Division of Family and Children Services, or law enforcement agencies.
- Hawaii's relevant statute prohibits acts or omissions resulting in the child being harmed or subject to any reasonably foreseeable, large risk of being injured by physical abuse or neglect, sexual abuse or sexual exploitation, or emotional or mental injury.
- The state law prohibits corporal punishment in school and childcare facilities. But parents can incorporate it as long as it is not excessive and does not cause injury.
- Idaho code prohibits conduct or omission resulting in physical abuse, neglect, sexual abuse, sexual exploitation, abandonment, or emotional or mental injury.
- Mandatory reporting of child abuse is also law in the state. Everyone must report known or suspected cases of abuse.
- The relevant statute prohibits persons from inflicting, causing, or allowing to be inflicted, creating a large risk, or committing or allowing to be committed physical abuse, neglect, sexual abuse, sexual exploitation, or emotional or mental injury.
- The Illinois code lists the professions of mandated reporters, including social workers, health professionals, and those in education.
- Indiana's child abuse laws prohibit acts or omissions resulting in physical abuse, neglect, sexual abuse, sexual exploitation, abandonment, or emotional or mental injury.
- Indiana allows corporal punishment if it does not result in injury or harm.
- Mandatory reporters are included in the state law. Anyone who suspects child abuse or neglect must report it.
- The relevant statute prohibits intentional infliction of physical injury on a child. It includes such injuries due to the acts or omissions of a person responsible for caring for a child.
- As in other states, corporal punishment is a parental right. But it should not result in harm or injury to the child.
- Reporting of child abuse is not specified to certain professions or occupations. Everyone must report the abuse.
- Kansas's relevant statutes prohibit infliction of physical, mental, or emotional harm to the child. This act includes sexual abuse or exploitation and nonaccidental harm to a child's health.
- Kansas allows corporal punishment. But it should not result in harm or injury to the child.
- Kansas law requires some professionals to report suspected child abuse.
- Kentucky's revised statutes prohibit harm or threat of damage, infliction, or allowance of infliction of physical abuse, neglect, sexual abuse, sexual exploitation, abandonment, or emotional or mental injury to a child.
- Kentucky law also allows corporal punishment. But it should not result in injury to the child.
- In Kentucky, it is the duty of anyone who has reasonable cause to believe that a child is dependent, abused, or neglected to report this information. Specific people are also required to report suspected cases of abuse and must file a written report as directed by Kentucky law.
- Louisiana defines child abuse as acts that endanger a child's physical, mental, or emotional health. Neglect is the unreasonable failure of a caregiver to provide a child with basic necessities — such as food, shelter, and medical or mental health treatment — and the failure to do so threatens or impairs the child's physical, mental, or emotional health and safety.
- The state law has a list of mandatory reporters. The law also requires any adult who witnesses a child being sexually abused to report it. Included in the list of mandatory reporters are those who commercially process film. Also, anyone who knows about the rape, homicide, or sexual abuse of a child must report it.
- Maine's revised statutes define child abuse as an act or omission that causes danger or injury to a child's physical, mental, or emotional well-being.
- Maine requires mandatory reporters to make a report to the Maine Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). Reports can also be made to law enforcement agencies if the person accused of committing the abuse is not a caregiver.
- The relevant statute prohibits harm or large risk of harm in conduct toward children where the conduct results in physical abuse, neglect, sexual abuse, sexual exploitation, or emotional or mental injury.
- Everyone in Maryland must report suspected child abuse or neglect. The statute contains no exemptions.
- The relevant statute prohibits a child's caregiver from engaging in non-accidental conduct that causes physical or emotional injury to a child or constitutes a sexual offense under the laws of Massachusetts. Neglect is the failure to provide the child with basic necessities.
- It also prohibits a child's caregiver from engaging in conduct that creates a large risk of injury or sexual offenses.
- Michigan's relevant statute on child abuse prohibits harm or threatened harm, to a child's health or welfare, from physical abuse, neglect, sexual abuse, sexual exploitation, or an emotional or mental injury to a child.
- The same statute contains exemptions for corporal punishment as long as the punishment is "reasonable."
- Michigan mandated reporters must report suspected child abuse or neglect to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.
- The relevant statute prohibits physical, emotional, and sexual abuse and neglect of children. Non-accidental injury or risk of injury is the defining characteristic.
- The goal of mandatory reporting is, like other states, to protect children from abuse and neglect. Mandatory reporters are certain named professionals who suspect child abuse or neglect within the previous three years. They are different from "voluntary reporters," who are any people who suspect abuse or neglect.
- The relevant statute in Mississippi prohibits neglecting, sexually abusing, sexually exploiting, or emotionally or mentally injuring children. The same statute also prohibits a child's caregiver from failing to intervene in any prohibited activities.
- It also contains an exemption for corporal punishment. Physical discipline performed on a child by a parent or other guardian "in a reasonable manner" is not considered child abuse under the code. Corporal punishment must not result in serious bodily harm.
- The law specifies mandated reporters by profession in the Mississippi code. But everyone must report suspected child abuse.
- Missouri's state statutes define child abuse as any physical, sexual, or emotional injury inflicted on a child — other than by accidental means — by those responsible for the child's care, custody, and control.
- State law allows discipline on children if performed in a "reasonable manner."
- Missouri's mandatory reporting rules are like other states. Several professionals listed in the Missouri Code must report suspected child abuse.
- The child abuse laws in Montana define child abuse or neglect as actual or psychological harm to the child, serious risk of such harm, or abandonment. It includes acts and omissions, sex trafficking, and exposing the child to the distribution of dangerous drugs.
- Mandatory reporting laws in Montana are like those in many other states. Certain professionals must report cases of abuse or neglect to the proper authorities.
- The relevant statute prohibits knowingly, intentionally, or negligently causing or permitting physical abuse, neglect, sexual abuse, sexual exploitation, or emotional or mental injury to children.
- Like other states, those whose professions have regular contact with children are mandatory reporters. They must report cases of child abuse and neglect. The code also directs that "any other person [with] reasonable cause" to believe that a child is being abused must also report.
- Nevada stated the definition of child abuse in its state law. Included in the definition is the physical or mental injury of a child that is nonaccidental in nature. Also included are sexual exploitation or abuse and negligent treatment or maltreatment of the child.
- The mandatory reporting laws in Nevada are the same as in other states. They are designed to give protection to children. The rules say people in the best position to notice the abuse to report them immediately.
- The relevant child abuse statute prohibits knowingly, intentionally, or negligently causing or permitting physical abuse, neglect, sexual abuse, sexual exploitation, and abandonment of children. The state law also includes child neglect in the definition of child abuse.
- New Mexico has laws about mandatory reporting and lists specific professionals who must report cases of abuse or neglect. New Mexico code also specifies that everyone is required to report suspected child abuse or neglect.
- New York state law similarly prohibits physical, emotional, or sexual abuse of children. An "abused child is a child whose parent or other person legally responsible for his/her care inflicts upon the child serious physical injury, creates a large risk of serious physical injury, or commits an act of sex abuse against the child."
- Using excessive corporal punishment is child abuse and neglect.
- Mandated reporters are professionals specified in the New York code. The same law requires these people to report abuse or maltreatment cases. New York law also authorizes child protective services to investigate reports of abuse or neglect.
- The relevant statute in North Carolina prohibits physically, emotionally, or sexually abusing a child. Corporal punishment is permitted so long as "cruel or grossly inappropriate procedures" are not employed.
- Mandatory reporters in North Carolina include "any person" with cause to suspect a child is being or has been subjected to abuse must report. But, some professionals are exempt from reporting in cases where the information was learned via protected privilege.
- In North Dakota, an abused child is defined as someone under 18 years of age suffering abuse. Abusive conduct includes physical injury, neglect, sexual abuse, or emotional harm. Exposure of the child to illegal drugs is included in this definition.
- Mandated reporters are professionals specified in the North Dakota code. In addition to this list, anyone may report suspected abuse. But anyone who has reasonable cause to suspect a child may be subject to abuse via "images of sexual conduct by a child discovered on a workplace computer" must report.
- Oklahoma state law defines child abuse as a failure to act that results in physical or emotional harm or threatened harm. Sexual abuse or exploitation is also included in this definition. The child's exposure to a controlled substance is also considered a form of child abuse.
- Corporal punishment is permitted but "extreme physical punishment inappropriate to the child's age or condition" is not allowed.
- The laws on mandatory reporting say everyone must report suspected cases of child abuse or neglect.
- The Ohio law defines child abuse as threatened harm to the child's welfare or health by a person responsible for it. The abuse can be in various forms, such as physical injury, sexual conduct, or neglect.
- Ohio allows corporal punishment, but it must not be excessive or create a large risk of serious harm to the child.
- Like other states, certain professionals are mandated reporters and must report cases of abuse or neglect.
- The relevant statute prohibits physically abusing, neglecting, sexually abusing, sexually exploiting, or emotionally or mentally injuring children. The same statute prohibits failures to intervene in the prohibited activities listed above.
- The statute contains exemptions for religion, poverty, and corporal punishment. Suppose there is a question of a child requiring medical assistance or attention within the scope of a possible exemption for religion or poverty. In that case, a court can order that any child receive medical attention or assistance regardless of any objection from the child's caretaker. The exemption doesn't apply if the child dies.
- Mandated reporters are professionals likely to have contact with children and are specified in the code.
- In South Carolina, child abuse and neglect refers to acts or omissions that cause harm or risk of harm to the child's health, well-being, and safety. This includes physical harm and maltreatment, sexual abuse or exploitation, neglect, or abandonment.
- Excessive corporal punishment is abuse. The code also describes elements of corporal punishment that are not considered abuse.
- The child abuse statute in South Dakota prohibits physical abuse, neglect, sexual abuse, sexual exploitation, abandonment, and emotional or mental injury.
- Certain professionals must report suspicion of child abuse to the appropriate authorities. But anyone with a reasonable doubt of abuse should register the case. Any person who believes that a child died as a result of abuse must report it.
- The state statute in Tennessee defines child abuse as any act or failure to act that causes harm to a child. This includes physical or emotional injury, neglect, sexual abuse, exploitation, and abandonment.
- Physical injuries "in excess of age-appropriate corporal punishment" may be considered child abuse.
- All people must report cases of child abuse and neglect. This rule extends the duty to report not just to professionals but to the public as a whole.
- Texas defines child abuse as an act or omission that results in emotional and physical injury to the child. It also includes emotional harm, sexual misconduct, substance abuse, or involvement of the child in pornographic activities.
- Corporal punishment is prohibited when it is excessive or abusive.
- Any person who suspects a case of child abuse or neglect must report it. This extends the responsibility of reporting the abuse to the general public.
- Utah state law defines child abuse as any intentional or reckless act or failure to act that causes physical or mental injury to the child. This includes sexual abuse and sexual exploitation. Utah also has provisions for the investigation and treatment of children who have been exposed to domestic violence.
- Corporal punishment is permitted if the conduct is "reasonable discipline or management of a child."
- All people who believe a child has been subjected to abuse, neglect, or dependency must report it.
- Vermont state statute defines child abuse as any act of omission that can either be physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect, or emotional abuse. The provision also requires the investigation and treatment of children who have been exposed to domestic violence or drug abuse.
- Corporal punishment is not addressed in the Vermont code section that defines abuse.
- Vermont law requires certain professionals to report cases of abuse and neglect.
- In Virginia, child abuse is sexual abuse, physical injury, emotional harm, or neglect.
- Parent corporal punishment is permitted so long as it is "within the bounds of moderation and reason."
- The Virginia law's reporting rules require a mandatory reporter to notify law enforcement agencies or social services of the abuse as soon as practicable but not more than 24 hours after becoming aware of the abuse.
- The relevant statute prohibits harm to children of health, welfare, or safety resulting from physical abuse, neglect, sexual abuse, or sexual exploitation.
- Washington specifies that corporal punishment be reasonable and moderate. Specific acts of corporal punishment are unlawful.
- The reporting rules in Washington require mandatory reporters to report the abuse as soon as practicable. People with regular contact with children as part of their profession are on the list.
- West Virginia law defines an abused child as one whose health or welfare is harmed or threatened by an intentionally inflicted physical or mental injury, sexual abuse or exploitation, domestic violence, or human trafficking.
- Corporal punishment that causes an injury may be considered abuse if it is "excessive."
- There is a list of professionals who are also required to report suspected child abuse or neglect cases.
- Wisconsin state law defines child abuse as any act or omission that causes or creates a large risk of physical or mental harm to a child, including physical abuse, neglect, sexual abuse, or exploitation.
- The state allows "reasonable" corporal punishment.
- Wisconsin law lists professionals required to report suspected cases of abuse. This includes educators and social workers. Others who, through their professional interactions with children regularly, are also included on the list.
- Wyoming's state law defines child abuse as inflicting or causing physical or mental injury, harm, or imminent danger to a child's physical or mental health or welfare. Also included are abandonment and excessive or unreasonable corporal punishment. Malnutrition, intentional or unintentional neglect, or committing a sexual offense is also included in this definition.
- The same statute further requires that the prohibited acts be intentional.
Seek Legal Help
Child abuse and neglect are a serious concern. The penalties for child abuse can range from misdemeanors to more severe offenses. So, learning about the signs of abuse is crucial before the situation worsens. Remember that each state has its statute that addresses this case.
A child victim of abuse can also be placed in foster care. Here, there will be a suspension of parental rights. The child will get a foster parent, serving as a temporary family.
If you have concerns, do not hesitate to contact a child abuse hotline or contact a family law attorney near you. These lawyers can help you understand your rights. They will also provide legal support. The lawyer will guide you in your advocacy to protect the child.