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Child Abuse

Child abuse is defined as:


1. Any recent act or failure to act by a perpetrator that causes non-accidental serious physical injury to a child under 18 years of age.

2. An act act or failure to act by a perpetrator that causes non-accidental serious mental injury to or sexual abuse of sexual exploitation of a child under 18 years of age.

3. Any recent act, failure to act or series of such acts or failures to act by a perpetrator which creates an imminent risk of serious physical injury to or sexual abuse or sexual exploitation of a child under 18 years of age.

4. Serious physical neglect by a perpetrator constituting prolonged or repeated lack of supervision or the failure to provide essentials of life, including adequate medical care, which endangers a child's life or development or impairs the child's functioning.


Neglect is the failure of a parent, guardian, or other caregiver to provide for a child's basic needs. Neglect may be:

  1. Physical - failure to provide necessary food or shelter, or lack of appropriate supervision
  2. Medical - failure to provide necessary medical or mental health treatment
  3. Educational - failure to educate a child or attend to special education needs
  4. Emotional - inattention to a child's emotional needs, failure to provide psychological care, or permitting the child to use alcohol or other drugs


Overall, child abuse addresses bodily injury, serious physical neglect, serious mental injury, and sexual abuse.


Bodily Injury

One definition of child abuse is causing bodily injury to a child through any recent act or failure to act. Bodily injury is defined as an impairment of physical condition or an act that causes substantial pain. A recent act or failure to act is defined as one occurring within two years of the date of the report.


Additional physical activities that can constitute child abuse include, but are not limited to, kicking or throwing a child in a manner that endangers the child, unreasonably restraining or confining a child, and forcefully slapping or otherwise striking a child under one year of age.


The Pennsylvania General Assembly retained a parent's ability to use reasonable force on or against their child for the purposes of supervision, control, and discipline. Another person responsible for the child's welfare also is allowed to use reasonable force to quell a disturbance or remove the child from the scene of a disturbance that threatens physical injury to persons or damage to property, prevent a child from self-inflicted physical harm, for self-defense or the defense of another individual, or to obtain possession of weapons or other dangerous objects or controlled substances or paraphernalia that are on the child or within the control of the child.


Serious Physical Neglect

Causing serious physical neglect of a child can constitute child abuse. Serious physical neglect can be committed by a repeated, prolonged or egregious failure to supervise a child in a manner that is appropriate considering the child's developmental age and abilities. Serious physical neglect also can be committed by the failure to provide a child with the adequate essentials of life.


Serious Mental Injury

Historically, serious mental injury accounts for less that one percent of all cases of counded child abuse. Children who experience other forms of child abuse, however, often exhibit concurrent emotional problems.


Serious mental injury is defined as a psychological condition that renders a child chronically and severely anxious, agitated, depressed, socially withdrawn, psychotic, or in reasonable fear that his or her life or safety is threatened. Serious mental injury also can include a psychological condition that interferes with a child's ability to accomplish age-appropriate developmental and social tasks. The mere existence of the psychological condition does not trigger a report of suspected abuse. Rather, there has to be reasonable cause to suspect that the individual in question caused or significantly contributed to the serious mental injury of the child through any act or failure to act.


Sexual Abuse

The Child Protective Services Law requires that a report of suspected child sexual abuse be made when a child less than 18 years of age has been the victim of designated sexual offenses. The sexual offenses that trigger a report of suspected child sexual abuse are rape, sexual assault, statutory sexual assault, involuntary deviant sexual intercourse, aggravated indecent assault, institutional sexual assault, indecent exposure, prostitution, sexual abuse, unlawful contact with a minor, incest, and sexual exploitation.