Definitions of Child Abuse and Neglect - Florida

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Physical Abuse

Citation: Ann. Stat. § 39.01

'Abuse' means any willful act or threatened act that results in any physical, mental, or sexual abuse, injury, or harm that causes or is likely to cause a child's physical, mental, or emotional health to be significantly impaired. Abuse of a child includes the birth of a new child into a family during an open dependency case when the parent or caregiver has been determined to lack the protective capacity to safely care for the children in the home and has not substantially complied with the case plan toward successful reunification or met the conditions for return of the children into the home. Abuse of a child includes acts or omissions.

'Harm' to a child's health or welfare can occur when a person inflicts or allows to be inflicted upon the child physical, mental, or emotional injury. Such injury includes, but is not limited to, any of the following:

  • Willful acts that produce specific serious injuries
  • Purposely gives a child poison, alcohol, drugs, or other substances that substantially affect the child's behavior, motor coordination, or judgment or that result in sickness or internal injury
  • Leaves a child without adult supervision or arrangement appropriate for the child's age or mental or physical condition
  • Uses inappropriate or excessively harsh discipline that is likely to result in physical injury, mental injury as defined in this section, or emotional injury
  • Commits or allows to be committed sexual battery against the child
  • Allows, encourages, or forces the sexual exploitation of a child
  • Abandons the child
  • Exploits a child or allows a child to be exploited
  • Neglects the child
  • Exposes a child to a controlled substance or alcohol
  • Uses mechanical devices, unreasonable restraints, or extended periods of isolation to control a child
  • Engages in violent behavior that demonstrates a wanton disregard for the presence of a child and could reasonably result in serious injury to the child
  • Negligently fails to protect a child in their care from inflicted physical, mental, or sexual injury caused by the acts of another
  • Has allowed a child's sibling to die as a result of abuse, abandonment, or neglect
  • Makes the child unavailable for the purpose of impeding or avoiding a protective investigation unless the court determines that the parent, legal custodian, or caregiver was fleeing from a situation involving domestic violence

Neglect

Citation: Ann. Stat. § 39.01

'Neglect' occurs when a child is deprived of, or is allowed to be deprived of, necessary food, clothing, shelter, or medical treatment or a child is permitted to live in an environment when such deprivation or environment causes the child's physical, mental, or emotional health to be significantly impaired or to be in danger of being significantly impaired. Neglect of a child includes acts or omissions.

Within the context of the definition of 'harm,' the term 'neglects the child' means that the parent or other person responsible for the child's welfare fails to supply the child with adequate food, clothing, shelter, or health care, although financially able to do so or although offered financial or other means to do so.

'Medical neglect' means the failure to provide or allow needed care as recommended by a health-care practitioner for a physical injury, illness, medical condition, or impairment or the failure to seek timely and appropriate medical care for a serious health problem that a reasonable person would have recognized as requiring professional medical attention. Medical neglect does not occur if the parent or legal guardian of the child has made reasonable attempts to obtain necessary health-care services or the immediate health condition giving rise to the allegation of neglect is a known and expected complication of the child's diagnosis or treatment, and either of the following is true:

  • The recommended care offers limited net benefit to the child, and the morbidity or other side effects of the treatment may be greater than the anticipated benefit.
  • The parent or legal guardian received conflicting medical recommendations for treatment from multiple practitioners and did not follow all recommendations.

Sexual Abuse/Exploitation

Citation: Ann. Stat. § 39.01

'Sexual abuse of a child' means one or more of the following acts:

  • Any penetration, however slight, of the vagina or anal opening of one person by the penis of another person, regardless of whether there is the emission of semen
  • Any sexual contact between the genitals or anal opening of one person and the mouth or tongue of another person
  • Any intrusion by one person into the genitals or anal opening of another person, including the use of any object for this purpose, not including any act intended for a valid medical purpose
  • The intentional touching of the genitals or intimate parts, including the breasts, genital area, groin, inner thighs, and buttocks, or the clothing covering them, of either the child or the perpetrator, not including the following:
    • An act that may considered a normal caregiver responsibility or any interaction with or affection for a child
    • An act intended for a valid medical purpose
  • The intentional masturbation of the perpetrator's genitals in the presence of a child
  • The intentional exposure of the perpetrator's genitals in the presence of a child, or any other sexual act intentionally perpetrated in the presence of a child, if such exposure or sexual act is for the purpose of sexual arousal or gratification, aggression, degradation, or other similar purpose
  • The sexual exploitation of a child, including the following:
    • A child offering to engage in or engaging in prostitution
    • Allowing, encouraging, or forcing a child to solicit for or engage in prostitution, engage in a sexual performance, or participate in the trade of human trafficking, as provided in § 787.06(3)(g)

'Harm' to a child can occur when any person does any of the following:

  • Commits or allows to be committed sexual battery or lewd or lascivious acts against the child
  • Allows, encourages, or forces the sexual exploitation of a child, including engaging in prostitution or a sexual performance

Emotional Abuse

Citation: Ann. Stat. § 39.01

'Mental injury' means an injury to the intellectual or psychological capacity of a child as evidenced by a discernible and substantial impairment in the ability to function within the normal range of performance and behavior.

Abandonment

Citation: Ann. Stat. § 39.01

'Abandoned' or 'abandonment' occurs when the parent or legal custodian of a child or, in the absence of a parent or legal custodian, the caregiver, while being able, has made no significant contribution to the child's care and maintenance or has failed to establish or maintain a substantial and positive relationship with the child.

For purposes of this subsection, 'establish or maintain a substantial and positive relationship' includes, but is not limited to, frequent and regular contact with the child through frequent and regular visitation or frequent and regular communication to or with the child and the exercise of parental rights and responsibilities. Marginal efforts and incidental or token visits or communications are not sufficient to establish or maintain a substantial and positive relationship with a child. A man's acknowledgement of paternity of the child does not limit the period of time considered in determining whether the child was abandoned.

The term does not include a surrendered newborn infant, as described in § 383.50; a 'child in need of services'; or a 'family in need of services,' as defined in chapter 984. The absence of a parent, legal custodian, or caregiver responsible for a child's welfare who is a servicemember, by reason of deployment or anticipated deployment, may not be considered or used as a factor in determining abandonment. The incarceration of a parent, legal custodian, or caregiver responsible for a child's welfare may support a finding of abandonment.

Standards for Reporting

Citation: Ann. Stat. § 39.201

A report is required when any person knows, or has reasonable cause to suspect, that a child is abused, abandoned, or neglected by a parent, legal custodian, caregiver, or other person responsible for the child's welfare or that a child is in need of supervision and care and has no parent, legal custodian, or responsible adult relative immediately known and available to provide supervision and care.

Persons Responsible for the Child

Citation: Ann. Stat. § 39.01

Responsible persons include the child's parent or legal custodian or, in the absence of the parent or legal custodian, the child's caregiver. The term 'caregiver' includes the parent, legal custodian, permanent guardian, adult household member, or other person responsible for a child's welfare.

'Other person responsible for a child's welfare' includes the following:

  • The child's legal guardian or foster parent
  • An employee of a private school, public or private child daycare center, residential home, institution, facility, or agency
  • A law enforcement officer employed in any facility, service, or program for children that is operated or contracted by the Department of Juvenile Justice
  • Any other person legally responsible for the child's welfare in a residential setting
  • An adult sitter or relative entrusted with a child's care

Exceptions

Citation: Ann. Stat. § 39.01

Corporal discipline of a child by a parent or legal custodian for disciplinary purposes does not in itself constitute abuse when it does not result in harm to the child.

It shall not be considered neglect if failure to provide for the child is caused primarily by financial inability unless actual services for relief have been offered to and rejected by the parent.

A parent or legal custodian who, by reason of the legitimate practice of religious beliefs, does not provide specified medical treatment for a child may not be considered abusive or neglectful for that reason alone, but such an exception does not do the following:

  • Eliminate the requirement that the case be reported to the Department of Children and Family Services
  • Prevent the department from investigating the case
  • Preclude a court from ordering, when the health of the child requires it, the provision of medical services by a physician or treatment by a duly accredited practitioner who relies solely on spiritual means for healing in accordance with the tenets and practices of a well-recognized church or religious organization

A parent or legal custodian legitimately practicing religious beliefs in accordance with a recognized church or religious organization who thereby does not provide specific medical treatment for a child may not, for that reason alone, be considered a negligent parent or legal custodian; however, such an exception does not preclude a court from ordering the following services to be provided, when the health of the child so requires:

  • Medical services from a licensed physician, dentist, optometrist, podiatric physician, or other qualified health-care provider
  • Treatment by a duly accredited practitioner who relies solely on spiritual means for healing in accordance with the tenets and practices of a well-recognized church or religious organization