Child Abuse Laws

Every year, around 600,000 children suffer from abuse in the United States. And one in every seven children experiences abuse or neglect. In 2020 alone, 1,750 children perished due to cases of child abuse and neglect.

All 50 states implemented laws designed to protect children from abuse and neglect to address these rising numbers. Although each of these state laws may vary, they have standard provisions.

The following subsections will cover these topics in detail:

Child Abuse Prevention

Child abuse is any mistreatment or harm inflicted on a minor under 18 years of age. A person might commit the abuse in various ways. It often occurs through any of the following:

  • Physical abuse
  • Child sexual abuse
  • Emotional abuse
  • Medical abuse
  • Neglect

A child experiencing abuse and neglect is at risk of physical injury, sexual abuse, and sexual exploitation. Besides physical harm, these children may also suffer psychological and emotional trauma. These harms might include anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, or other emotional and psychological problems. Several studies have shown that a child who suffers from abuse and neglect is more likely to have substance dependency issues later in life.

The effort to prevent child abuse and neglect combines societal factors. These procedures aim to prevent cases of child abuse from occurring. Prevention of future bodily injury and escalation of domestic violence are the primary goals of investigation, reporting, and intervention:


A child protective services or law enforcement officer, or both, may conduct the investigation. A child abuse investigation includes interviewing the parents or caregiver and the child. The investigator may also interview other people who are familiar with the situation.

An investigation begins once a report of possible child maltreatment, neglect, sexual exploitation, or sexual abuse is received. The inquiry will determine whether someone has harmed the child or if the child is at risk of injury.

Then, officers will determine the best way to reduce the risk of harm and increase the child's safety. Law enforcement officers will also determine if criminal charges are appropriate.

The investigation should balance protecting the child and preserving the family unit. Child welfare workers are also encouraged to support families and assist them with providing a safe environment for the child.

Child welfare workers are encouraged to keep the child in the home. If this is not possible, they may place the child with family members. In most circumstances, it is preferable for a child to be with a family member versus foster care.

Mandatory Reporting

Each state will have different circumstances regarding when to make a mandatory report. In most instances, a person should make a report when there is a reasonable suspicion of abuse or neglect. When a reporter observes or has knowledge that someone has abused or is abusing the child, mandatory reporting is also compulsory. Mandatory reporters include the following:

  • Social workers
  • Teachers
  • Principals
  • Other school personnel
  • Physicians
  • Nurses
  • Other health-care workers
  • Counselors
  • Therapists
  • Other mental health professionals
  • Childcare providers
  • Medical examiners or coroners
  • Law enforcement officers
  • Human services employees
  • Department of Health staff

Intervention and Removal

If a child displays suspicious injuries or someone has reported child abuse, law enforcement and/or child protective services must assess the situation immediately.

If the child suffered from physical injury or sexual assault, the child should receive immediate medical care. A medical examination will also assess the child's health and overall well-being. The child protection workers who responded to the scene may collect evidence and images to better assess the situation.

After administering medical treatment and gathering evidence, a court process will follow in some cases.

With the help of medical experts, the court will assess whether the physical harm or abuse of the child occurred due to intentional infliction of injury or accidental means. The court authority may then direct child protective services to remove the child from the home. The person responsible for the abuse can face criminal charges or impairment of parental rights. In some cases, the court may place the child in foster care.

However, law enforcement officers must make reasonable efforts to keep the child in their home. Thus, social services programs are typically recommended to the child's parents or caregiver to aid in reunifying the family.

Seek Legal Help

If you or someone you know is a victim of child neglect and abuse, it is crucial to seek help immediately. Mandated reporters can also benefit from seeking legal advice to learn more about their rights. In most cases, an experienced family or criminal law attorney will be knowledgeable about applicable state laws regarding this type of case.

On the other hand, if you have existing criminal charges for child exploitation or child abuse and neglect, seek legal assistance from an experienced criminal defense attorney near you.

Disclaimer: The information provided is only general information. Due to varying state laws, consulting with an experienced criminal defense or family law attorney near you is necessary.

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Can I Solve This on My Own or Do I Need an Attorney?

  • You can seek new child custody arrangements during an abuse case
  • Child abuse can affect legal rights to custody
  • An attorney can help create orders of protection

Always report suspected child abuse to law enforcement. Many attorneys offer free consultations.

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