Definitions of Child Abuse and Neglect - California

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Physical Abuse

Citation: Welf. & Inst. Code § 300; Pen. Code § 11165.6

A child may be considered dependent (and subject to supervision by the Department of Social Services) under the following circumstances:

  • The child has suffered, or there is a substantial risk that the child will suffer, serious physical harm inflicted nonaccidentally upon the child by the child's parent or guardian. For the purposes of this subdivision, a court may find there is a substantial risk of serious future injury based on the way a less serious injury was inflicted, a history of repeated inflictions of injuries on the child or the child's siblings, or a combination of these and other actions by the parent or guardian that indicate the child is at risk of serious physical harm.
  • The child is younger than age 5 and has suffered severe physical abuse by a parent or by any person known by the parent, if the parent knew or reasonably should have known that the person was physically abusing the child.
  • The child's parent or guardian caused the death of another child through abuse or neglect.
  • The child has been subjected to an act or acts of cruelty by the parent or guardian or a member of their household, or the parent or guardian has failed to adequately protect the child from an act or acts of cruelty when the parent or guardian knew or reasonably should have known that the child was in danger of being subjected to an act or acts of cruelty.

For the purposes of this subdivision, 'severe physical abuse' means any of the following:

  • Any single act of abuse that causes physical trauma of sufficient severity that, if left untreated, would cause permanent physical disfigurement, permanent physical disability, or death
  • Any single act of sexual abuse that causes significant bleeding, deep bruising, or significant external or internal swelling
  • More than one act of physical abuse, each of which causes bleeding, deep bruising, significant external or internal swelling, bone fracture, or unconsciousness
  • The willful, prolonged failure to provide adequate food

In the Penal Code: As used in this article, the term 'child abuse or neglect' includes physical injury or death inflicted by other than accidental means upon a child by another person; sexual abuse, as defined in § 11165.1; neglect, as defined in § 11165.2; the willful harming or injuring of a child or the endangering of the person or health of a child, as defined in § 11165.3; and unlawful corporal punishment or injury, as defined in § 11165.4.

Neglect

Citation: Welf. & Inst. Code § 300; Pen. Code § 11165.2

A child may be considered dependent under the following circumstances:

  • The child has suffered, or there is a substantial risk that the child will suffer, serious physical harm or illness because of the following:
    • The failure or inability of the parent or guardian to adequately supervise or protect the child
    • The willful or negligent failure of the parent or guardian to adequately supervise or protect the child from the conduct of the custodian with whom the child has been left
    • The willful or negligent failure of the parent or guardian to provide the child with adequate food, clothing, shelter, or medical treatment
    • The inability of the parent or guardian to provide regular care for the child due to the parent's or guardian's mental illness, developmental disability, or substance abuse
  • The child's sibling has been abused or neglected, and there is a substantial risk that the child will be abused or neglected. The court shall consider the circumstances surrounding the abuse or neglect of the sibling, the age and gender of each child, the nature of the abuse or neglect of the sibling, the mental condition of the parent or guardian, and any other factors the court considers probative in determining whether there is a substantial risk to the child.
  • The child has been voluntarily surrendered at an infant safe-surrender site, and the child has not been reclaimed within the 14-day period specified in statute.
  • The child€™s parent has been incarcerated or institutionalized and cannot arrange for the care of the child.
  • A relative or other adult custodian with whom the child resides or has been left is unwilling or unable to provide care or support for the child, the whereabouts of the parent are unknown, and reasonable efforts to locate the parent have been unsuccessful.

In the Penal Code: The term 'neglect' means the negligent treatment or the maltreatment of a child by a person responsible for the child's welfare under circumstances indicating harm or threatened harm to the child's health or welfare. The term includes both acts and omissions on the part of the responsible person.

'Severe neglect' means the negligent failure of a person having the care or custody of a child to protect the child from severe malnutrition or medically diagnosed nonorganic failure to thrive. 'Severe neglect' also means those situations of neglect where any person having the care or custody of a child willfully causes or permits the child to be placed in a situation where their person or health is endangered, including the intentional failure to provide adequate food, clothing, shelter, or medical care.

'General neglect' means the negligent failure of a person having the care or custody of a child to provide adequate food, clothing, shelter, medical care, or supervision where no physical injury to the child has occurred.

Sexual Abuse/Exploitation

Citation: Welf. & Inst. Code § 300; Penal Code § 11165.1

A child is considered dependent if they have been sexually abused; there is a substantial risk that the child will be sexually abused, as defined in § 11165.1 of the Penal Code, by their parent, guardian, or a household member; or the parent or guardian has failed to adequately protect the child from sexual abuse when the parent or guardian knew or reasonably should have known that the child was in danger of sexual abuse.

The legislature finds and declares that a child who is sexually trafficked, as described in § 236.1 of the Penal Code, or who receives food or shelter in exchange for or who is paid to perform sexual acts, and whose parent or guardian failed to, or was unable to, protect the child, is within the description of this subdivision, and that these children shall be known as commercially sexually exploited children.

In the Penal Code: 'Sexual abuse' means sexual assault or sexual exploitation, as defined below:

  • 'Sexual assault' includes rape, incest, sodomy, lewd or lascivious acts upon a child, or child molestation.
  • 'Sexual exploitation' refers to any of the following:
    • Depicting a minor engaged in obscene acts; preparing, selling, or distributing obscene matter that depicts minors; employing a minor to perform obscene acts
    • Knowingly permitting or encouraging a child to engage in, or assisting others to engage in, prostitution or a live performance involving obscene sexual conduct, or to either pose or model alone or with others for purposes of preparing a film, photograph, negative, slide, drawing, painting, or other pictorial depiction involving obscene sexual conduct
    • Depicting a child in or knowingly developing, duplicating, printing, or exchanging any film, photograph, videotape, negative, or slide in which a child is engaged in an act of obscene sexual conduct

Emotional Abuse

Citation: Welf. & Inst. Code § 300

A child is considered dependent if they are suffering serious emotional damage or are at substantial risk of suffering serious emotional damage, as evidenced by severe anxiety, depression, withdrawal, or untoward aggressive behavior toward self or others as a result of the conduct of the parent or guardian or who has no parent or guardian capable of providing appropriate care. No child shall be found to be a dependent person if the willful failure of the parent or guardian to provide adequate mental health treatment is based on a sincerely held religious belief and if a less intrusive judicial intervention is available.

Abandonment

Citation: Welf. & Inst. Code § 300

A child is considered dependent when any of the following are true:

  • The child has been left without any provision for support.
  • Physical custody of the child has been voluntarily surrendered pursuant to § 1255.7 of the Health and Safety Code, and the child has not been reclaimed within the 14-day period specified in subdivision (e) of that section.
  • The child's parent has been incarcerated or institutionalized and cannot arrange for the care of the child.
  • A relative or other adult custodian with whom the child resides or has been left is unwilling or unable to provide care or support for the child, the whereabouts of the parent are unknown, and reasonable efforts to locate the parent have been unsuccessful.
  • The child has been freed for adoption by one or both parents for 12 months by either relinquishment or termination of parental rights, or an adoption petition has not been granted.

Standards for Reporting

Citation: Penal Code § 11166

A mandatory reporter shall make a report whenever they, in their professional capacity or within the scope of their employment, has knowledge of or observes a child whom the mandated reporter knows or reasonably suspects has been the victim of child abuse or neglect.

The term 'reasonable suspicion' means that it is objectively reasonable for a person to entertain a suspicion, based upon facts that could cause a reasonable person in a like position, drawing, when appropriate, on their training and experience, to suspect child abuse or neglect. 'Reasonable suspicion' does not require certainty that child abuse or neglect has occurred nor does it require a specific medical indication of child abuse or neglect. Any 'reasonable suspicion' is sufficient.

Persons Responsible for the Child

Citation: Welf. & Inst. Code § 300

A person responsible for a child's welfare includes the child's parent or guardian. As used in this section, 'guardian' means the legal guardian of the child.

Exceptions

Citation: Welf. & Inst. Code §§ 300; 300.5; 16509.1; Pen. Code §§ 11165.1; 11165.6

Serious physical harm does not include reasonable and age-appropriate spanking to the buttocks where there is no evidence of serious physical injury.

A child will not be found to be a dependent child when any of the following apply:

  • When the dependency is solely due to the failure of the child's parent to seek court orders for custody of the child
  • When the dependency is solely due to the lack of an emergency shelter for the family
  • When the willful failure of the parent or guardian to provide adequate mental health treatment is based on a sincerely held religious belief and if a less intrusive judicial intervention is available
  • When the dependency is solely due to a parent's physical disability, such as blindness or deafness unless the parent's disability prevents the parent from exercising care and control

A child whose parent has been adjudged a dependent child shall not be considered at risk of abuse or neglect solely because of the age, dependent status, or foster care status of the parent.

In any case in which a child is alleged to be dependent on the basis that they need medical care, the court, in making that finding, shall consider any treatment being provided to the child by spiritual means through prayer alone in accordance with the tenets and practices of a recognized church or religious denomination by an accredited practitioner thereof.

No child who in good faith is under treatment solely by spiritual means through prayer in accordance with the tenets and practices of a recognized church or religious denomination by a duly accredited practitioner thereof shall, for that reason alone, be considered to have been neglected.

In the Penal Code: 'Sexual assault' does not include voluntary conduct if there are no indicators of abuse, unless the conduct is between a person aged 21 or older and a minor who is younger than age 16.

'Child abuse or neglect' does not include a mutual affray between minors. 'Child abuse or neglect' does not include an injury caused by reasonable and necessary force used by a peace officer acting within the course and scope of their employment as a peace officer.