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Identifying Signs of Child Abuse

What is child abuse?

Under the Pennsylvania Child Protective Services Law, Child Abuse is defined as intentionally, knowingly or recklessly doing any of the following:

  1. Causing bodily injury to a child through any recent act or failure to act.
  2. Fabricating, feigning or intentionally exaggerating or inducing a medical symptom or disease which results in a potentially harmful medical evaluation or treatment to the child through any recent act.
  3. Causing or substantially contributing to serious mental injury to a child through any act or failure to act or a series of such acts or failures to act.
  4. Causing sexual abuse or exploitation of a child through any act or failure to act.
  5. Creating a reasonable likelihood of bodily injury to a child through any recent act or failure to act.
  6. Creating a likelihood of sexual abuse or exploitation of a child through any recent act or failure to act.
  7. Causing serious physical neglect of a child.
  8. Engaging in any of the following recent acts:
    1. Kicking, biting, throwing, burning, stabbing or cutting a child in a manner that endangers the child.
    2. Unreasonably restraining or confining a child, based on consideration of the method, location or the duration of the restraint or confinement.
    3. Forcefully shaking a child under one year of age.
    4. Forcefully slapping or otherwise striking a child under one year of age.
    5. Interfering with the breathing of a child.
    6. Causing a child to be present at a location while a violation of 18 Pa.C.S. § 7508.2 (relating to operation of methamphetamine laboratory) is occurring, provided that the violation is being investigated by law enforcement.
    7. Leaving a child unsupervised with an individual, other than the child's parent, who the actor knows or reasonably should have known:
      1. Is required to register as a Tier II or Tier III sexual offender under 42 Pa.C.S. Ch. 97 Subch. H (relating to registration of sexual offenders), where the victim of the sexual offense was under 18 years of age when the crime was committed.
      2. Has been determined to be a sexually violent predator under 42 Pa.C.S. § 9799.24 (relating to assessments) or any of its predecessors.
      3. Has been determined to be a sexually violent delinquent child as defined in 42 Pa.C.S. § 9799.12 (relating to definitions).
  9. Causing the death of the child through any act or failure to act.

What does this mean for a mandated reporter of suspected child abuse?

A person acts knowingly when they are aware that their conduct is of that nature or that such circumstances exist and they are aware that it is practically certain that their conduct will cause such a result.

A person acts recklessly when they consciously disregard a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the material element exists or will result from their conduct. The risk must be of such a nature and degree that, considering the nature and intent of the conduct and the circumstances known to them, its disregard involves a gross deviation from the standard of conduct that a reasonable person would observe in the situation.

A person acts intentionally when they consciously engage in conduct of that nature or cause such a result and are aware of such circumstances or believe or hope that they exist.

Serious physical neglect includes egregious behavior which would include situations when the behavior might have only occurred one time. Previously there had to be prolonged or repeated behavior.

The definition of sexual abuse includes the exception that consensual activities between a child who is 14 years of age or older and another person who is 14 years of age or older and whose age is within four years of the child's age are excluded as sexual abuse unless any of the following were committed:

Rape; Statutory sexual assault; Involuntary deviate sexual intercourse; Sexual assault; Institutional sexual assault; Aggravated indecent assault; Indecent assault; Indecent exposure; Incest; Prostitution; Sexual abuse; Unlawful contact with a minor; or Sexual exploitation.

How can I recognize child abuse or neglect?

There are four general types of child abuse:

  1. Physical Abuse
  2. Sexual Abuse
  3. Psychological Abuse
  4. Neglect or Maltreatment

Physical Abuse is inflicting or allowing someone to inflict serious physical injury other than by accidental means. Possible indicators are:

  • Injuries to the eyes or both sides of the head or body (accidental injuries typically only affect one side of the body).
  • Frequent injuries of any kind (bruises, cuts, burns), especially if the child is unable to provide an adequate explanation.
  • These injuries may appear in distinctive patterns such as grab marks, human bite marks, cigarette burns or impressions of other instruments of abuse (belts, electric cords, kitchen utensils).
  • Destructive, aggressive or disruptive behavior.
  • Passive, withdrawn or emotionless behavior.
  • Fear of going home or fear of parent(s).

Examples of abuse: Shaking; Beating; Biting; Kicking; Punching; Burning; Excessive corporal punishment.

Sexual Abuse includes situations in which a child is forced to engage in sexual activity with adults or other children. Possible indicators are:

  • Symptoms or diagnosis of sexually transmitted diseases.
  • Injury to genital area.
  • Difficulty and/or pain when sitting or walking.
  • Sexually suggestive, inappropriate or promiscuous behavior, verbalization or exposure.
  • Expressing age-inappropriate knowledge of sexual relations.
  • Sexual victimization of other children.

Examples of abuse are: Fondling; Intercourse; Exposing a child to sexual activity or exhibitionism; Using a child in a sexual performance; Rape; Sodomy; Any non-consensual sexual conduct and/or prostitution.

Psychological Abuse includes severe rejection, humiliation and actions intended to produce fear or extreme guilt in a child. Possible indicators are:

  • Weight loss or poor weight gain.
  • Emotional issues such as low self-esteem, depression and anxiety.
  • Shy or withdrawn, avoids eye contact or does not talk openly to others.
  • Rebellious behavior.
  • Problems sleeping.
  • Vague physical complaints.
  • Disturbed or frightened.
  • Wants to hurt self or other people.

Examples of abuse are: Verbally terrorizing a child; Continually and severely criticizing the child; Failing to express any affection or nurturing.

Neglect or Maltreatment means that a child's physical, mental or emotional condition has been impaired, or placed in imminent danger of impairment, by the failure of the child's parent or other person legally responsible to exercise a minimum degree of care. Possible indicators are:

  • Obvious malnourishment, listlessness or fatigue.
  • Stealing or begging for food.
  • Lack of personal care, poor personal hygiene, torn and/or dirty clothes.
  • Untreated need for glasses, dental care or other medical attention.
  • Frequent absence from or tardiness to school.
  • Child inappropriately left unattended or without supervision.

Examples of neglect or maltreatment are: Failing to provide sufficient food, clothing, supervision, medical care, education; Abandoning a child; Misusing alcohol or drugs to the extent that a child is placed in imminent danger.

Is this child abuse or an accident?

When you encounter a child with an injury, there are four categories to consider that can help you distinguish between child abuse and normal bruises. A combination of these factors may help you determine whether or not an injury is suspicious, and more likely to be caused by abuse.

Many injuries leave a bruise that has a discernible pattern.
The severity of an injury should be taken into account.
Body Location
The location of an injury can help you determine whether or not the child was abused.
Ask the adult what happened to the child. Is the child's injury consistent with the reason given by the adult?