Definitions of Child Abuse and Neglect - District of Columbia

Date: May 2022

Physical Abuse

Citation: Ann. Code § 16-2301

'Abused,' when used in reference to a child, means any of the following:

  • Infliction of physical or mental injury
  • Sexual abuse or exploitation
  • Negligent treatment or maltreatment


Citation: Ann. Code § 16-2301

'Neglected child' means any of the following applies to a child:

  • Whose parent, guardian, or custodian has failed to make reasonable efforts to prevent the infliction of abuse upon the child
  • Who is without proper parental care or control, subsistence, education, or other care or control necessary for their physical, mental, or emotional health
  • Whose parent, guardian, or other custodian is unable to discharge their responsibilities to and for the child because of incarceration, hospitalization, or other physical or mental incapacity
  • Whose parent, guardian, or custodian refuses or is unable to assume responsibility for the child's care, control, or subsistence and the person or institution providing for the child states an intention to discontinue such care
  • Who is in imminent danger of being abused and another child living in the same household has been abused
  • Who has received negligent treatment or maltreatment
  • Who has resided in a hospital located in the District of Columbia for at least 10 calendar days following their birth, despite a medical determination that the child is ready for discharge from the hospital, and the parent has not taken any action or made any effort to maintain a parental, guardianship, or custodial relationship or contact with the child
  • Who is born addicted or dependent on a controlled substance or has a significant presence of a controlled substance in their system at birth
  • In whose body there is a controlled substance as a direct and foreseeable consequence of the acts or omissions of the child's parent
  • Who is regularly exposed to illegal drug-related activity in the home

'Negligent treatment' or 'maltreatment' means failure to provide adequate food, clothing, shelter, or medical care that includes medical neglect, and the deprivation is not due to the lack of financial means of their parent, guardian, or other custodian.

Sexual Abuse/Exploitation

Citation: Ann. Code § 16-2301

'Sexual abuse' means any of the following:

  • Engaging in, or attempting to engage in, a sexual act or sexual contact with a child
  • Causing or attempting to cause a child to engage in sexually explicit conduct
  • Exposing the child to sexually explicit conduct

The term 'sexually explicit conduct' means actual or simulated sexual acts; sexual contact; bestiality; masturbation; or lascivious exhibition of the genitals, anus, or pubic area.

'Sexual exploitation' occurs when a parent, guardian, or other custodian allows a child to engage in prostitution or engages a child or allows a child to engage in obscene or pornographic photography, filming, or other forms of illustrating or promoting sexual conduct.

Emotional Abuse

Citation: Ann. Code § 16-2301

'Mental injury' means harm to a child's psychological or intellectual functioning that may be exhibited by severe anxiety, depression, withdrawal, outwardly aggressive behavior, or a combination of those behaviors and that may be demonstrated by a change in behavior, emotional response, or cognition.


Citation: Ann. Code § 16-2301

The term 'neglected child' includes a child who has been abandoned by their parent, guardian, or custodian.

Standards for Reporting

Citation: Ann. Code § 4-1321.02

A report is required when a mandatory reporter knows or has reasonable cause to suspect that a child known to them in their professional or official capacity has been or is in immediate danger of being a mentally or physically abused or neglected child.

The Metropolitan Police Department shall immediately report or have a report made to the Child and Family Services Agency of any knowledge, information, or suspicion of a child engaging in or offering to engage in a sexual act or sexual contact, as defined in the Anti-Sexual Abuse Act of 1994 (§ 22-3001), in return for receiving anything of value.

Persons Responsible for the Child

Citation: Ann. Code § 16-2301

Responsible persons include a parent, guardian, or custodian.


Citation: Ann. Code § 16-2301

It is not neglect when the child's deprivation of parental care and control is due to a lack of financial means.

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

The term 'abused' does not include parental discipline, as long as the discipline is reasonable in manner and moderate in degree and otherwise does not constitute cruelty. The term 'discipline' does not include any of the following:

  • Burning, biting, or cutting a child
  • Striking a child with a closed fist
  • Inflicting injury to a child by shaking, kicking, or throwing the child
  • Nonaccidental injury to a child younger than 18 months
  • Interfering with a child's breathing
  • Threatening a child with a dangerous weapon or using such a weapon on a child

The above list is illustrative of unacceptable discipline and is not intended to be exclusive or exhaustive.