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California Child Abuse Laws

Last updated 11/18/2019

California child abuse laws fall within the Penal Code, as they do in other states. The crime is broadly defined to include any type of cruelty inflicted on a child, such as mental abuse, physical abuse, sexual assault or exploitation, and neglect. Charges for physical child abuse often include assault and battery. Child abuse laws also include provisions requiring certain adults with access to children (such as teachers and doctors) to report signs of abuse.

Child Abuse in the U.S.

Generally speaking, child abuse occurs whenever a parent or caretaker physically, emotionally, or sexually abuses, neglects, or abandons a child. While parents have the right to raise and discipline their children as they see fit, laws regarding child abuse seek to protect children from serious harm. Child abuse in the United States is more common than many people think: Each year more than 3 million reports of child abuse are made, involving almost 6 million children.  

California Statutes

State child abuse laws can vary depending on your jurisdiction. Here is a general overview of California child abuse laws, mandatory reporting requirements, and penalties for failure to report.

Code Section

Penal Code §11164, et seq., Assembly Bill No. 1179, Chapter 127

What Constitutes Abuse

Sexual abuse or exploitation as listed by incident in 11165.1; neglect; willful cruelty or unjustifiable punishment; any physical injury inflicted other than by accidental means.

Mandatory Reporting Required By

Health practitioner, child visitation monitors, firefighter, animal control officer, humane society officer, district attorney, school employees, film processors, clergy, social workers, daycare workers, police department employees, administrators or employees of public or private youth organizations or day camps.

Survivors can file a lawsuit until they reach the age of 40, and if they are already an adult, within five years of realizing their injury was caused by childhood abuse.

Basis of Report of Abuse/Neglect

Knows or reasonably suspects or observes child abuse.

To Whom Reported

To a child protective agency (police or sheriff's department, county probation department, or country welfare department).

Penalty for Failure to Report or False Reporting

Misdemeanor; up to 6 months in jail and/or up to $1,000

Note: State laws are always subject to change through the passage of new legislation, rulings in the higher courts (including federal decisions), ballot initiatives, and other means. While we strive to provide the most current information available, please consult an attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.

California Codes and Legal Research Options

Additional Resources

If you have additional questions about California’s child abuse laws, click on the following links:

Questions About California Child Abuse Laws? Talk to a Lawyer

If you've been charged with child abuse, you could be facing serious penalties and may even lose custody of your child. It's always best to speak with a criminal defense attorney in California to learn more about the laws in your jurisdiction and how they apply to your particular case.

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