Definitions of Child Abuse and Neglect - Pennsylvania

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Physical Abuse

Citation: Cons. Stat. Tit. 23, § 6303

The term 'child abuse' shall mean intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly doing any of the following:

  • Causing bodily injury to a child through any recent act or failure to act
  • Fabricating, feigning, or intentionally exaggerating or inducing a medical symptom or disease that results in a potentially harmful medical evaluation or treatment to the child through any recent act
  • Causing sexual abuse or exploitation of a child through any act or failure to act
  • Creating a reasonable likelihood of bodily injury to a child through any recent act or failure to act
  • Creating a likelihood of sexual abuse or exploitation of a child through any recent act or failure to act
  • Causing serious physical neglect of a child
  • Engaging in any of the following recent acts:
    • Kicking, biting, throwing, burning, stabbing, or cutting a child in a manner that endangers the child
    • Unreasonably restraining or confining a child, based on consideration of the method, location, or the duration of the restraint or confinement
    • Forcefully shaking a child younger than age 1
    • Forcefully slapping or otherwise striking a child younger than age 1
    • Interfering with the breathing of a child
    • 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
    • Leaving a child unsupervised with an individual, other than the child's parent, who the actor knows or reasonably should have known:
      • Is required to register as a tier II or tier III sexual offender, when the victim of the sexual offense was younger than age 18 when the crime was committed
      • Has been determined to be a sexually violent predator
      • Has been determined to be a sexually violent delinquent child
  • Causing the death of the child through any act or failure to act
  • Engaging a child in a severe form of trafficking in persons or sex trafficking, as those terms are defined under Federal law (22 U.S.C. § 7102)

Neglect

Citation: Cons. Stat. Tit. 23, § 6303

'Serious physical neglect' means any of the following acts when committed by a perpetrator that endangers a child's life or health; threatens a child's well-being; causes bodily injury; or impairs a child's health, development, or functioning:

  • A repeated, prolonged, or egregious failure to supervise a child in a manner that is appropriate, considering the child's developmental age and abilities
  • The failure to provide a child with adequate essentials of life, including food, shelter, or medical care

Sexual Abuse/Exploitation

Citation: Cons. Stat. Tit. 23, §§ 6303; 6304

'Sexual abuse or exploitation' means any of the following:

  • The employment, use, persuasion, inducement, enticement, or coercion of a child to engage in or assist another individual to engage in sexually explicit conduct, including, but not limited to, the following:
    • Looking at the sexual or other intimate parts of a child or another individual for the purpose of arousing or gratifying sexual desire in any individual
    • Participating in sexually explicit conversation either in person, by telephone, by computer, or by a computer-aided device for the purpose of sexual stimulation or gratification of any individual
    • Actual or simulated sexual activity or nudity for the purpose of sexual stimulation or gratification of any individual
    • Actual or simulated sexual activity for the purpose of producing visual depiction, including photographing, videotaping, computer depicting, or filming
  • Any of the following offenses committed against a child:
    • Rape, as defined in 18 Pa.C.S. § 3121
    • Statutory sexual assault, as defined in 18 Pa.C.S. § 3122.1
    • Involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, as defined in 18 Pa.C.S. § 3123
    • Sexual assault, as defined in 18 Pa.C.S. § 3124.1
    • Institutional sexual assault, as defined in 18 Pa.C.S. § 3124.2
    • Aggravated indecent assault, as defined in 18 Pa.C.S. § 3125
    • Indecent assault, as defined in 18 Pa.C.S. § 3126
    • Indecent exposure, as defined in 18 Pa.C.S. § 3127
    • Incest, as defined in 18 Pa.C.S. § 4302
    • Prostitution, as defined in 18 Pa.C.S. § 5902
    • Sexual abuse of children, as defined in 18 Pa.C.S. § 6312
    • Unlawful contact with a minor, as defined in 18 Pa.C.S. § 6318
    • Sexual exploitation of children, as defined in 18 Pa.C.S. § 6320

Harm or injury to a child that results from the act of another child shall not constitute child abuse unless the child who caused the harm or injury is a perpetrator. However, acts constituting any of the following crimes against a child shall be subject to the reporting requirements of this chapter:

  • Rape
  • Involuntary deviate sexual intercourse
  • Sexual assault
  • Aggravated indecent assault
  • Indecent assault
  • Indecent exposure

Emotional Abuse

Citation: Cons. Stat. Tit. 23, § 6303

The term 'child abuse' includes 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.

'Serious mental injury' means a psychological condition, as diagnosed by a physician or licensed psychologist, including the refusal of appropriate treatment that results in the following:

  • Renders a child chronically and severely anxious, agitated, depressed, socially withdrawn, psychotic, or in reasonable fear that the child's life or safety is threatened
  • Seriously interferes with a child's ability to accomplish age-appropriate developmental and social tasks

Abandonment

This issue is not addressed in the statutes reviewed.

Standards for Reporting

Citation: Cons. Stat. Tit. 23, § 6311

A mandated reporter shall make a report of suspected child abuse if the mandated reporter has reasonable cause to suspect that a child is a victim of child abuse under any of the following circumstances:

  • The mandated reporter encounters the child in the course of employment, occupation, and practice of a profession or through a regularly scheduled program, activity, or service.
  • The mandated reporter is directly responsible for the care, supervision, guidance, or training of the child or is affiliated with an agency, institution, organization, school, regularly established church or religious organization, or other entity that is directly responsible for the care, supervision, guidance, or training of the child.
  • A person makes a specific disclosure to the mandated reporter that an identifiable child is the victim of child abuse.
  • An individual aged 14 or older makes a specific disclosure to the mandated reporter that they have committed child abuse.

Persons Responsible for the Child

Citation: Cons. Stat. Tit. 23, § 6303

'Perpetrator' means a person who has committed child abuse, as defined in this section. The term includes only the following:

  • A parent of the child
  • A spouse or former spouse of the child's parent
  • A paramour or former paramour of the child's parent
  • A person aged 14 or older and responsible for the child's welfare
  • An individual who is age 14 or older who resides in the same home as the child
  • An individual aged 18 or older who does not reside in the same home as the child but is related within the third degree of consanguinity or affinity by birth or adoption to the child
  • An individual aged 18 or older who engages a child in severe forms of trafficking in persons or sex trafficking, as those terms are defined in Federal law (22 U.S.C. § 7102)

Only the following may be considered a perpetrator for failing to act, as provided in this section:

  • A parent of the child
  • A spouse or former spouse of the child's parent
  • A paramour or former paramour of the child's parent
  • A person aged 18 or older who is responsible for the child's welfare
  • A person aged 18 or older who resides in the same home as the child

A 'person responsible for the child's welfare' is a person who provides permanent or temporary care; supervision; mental health diagnosis or treatment; training; or control of a child in lieu of parental care, supervision, and control.

Exceptions

Citation: Cons. Stat. Tit. 23, §§ 6303; 6304

The term 'sexual abuse' does not include consensual activities between a child who is aged 14 or older and another person who is aged 14 or older and whose age is within 4 years of the child's age.

No child shall be deemed to be abused based on injuries that result solely from environmental factors, such as inadequate housing, furnishings, income, clothing, and medical care, which are beyond the control of the parent.

If, upon investigation, the county agency determines that a child has not been provided needed medical or surgical care because of sincerely held religious beliefs of the child's parents, which beliefs are consistent with those of a bona fide religion, the child shall not be deemed to be physically or mentally abused. In such cases, the county agency shall closely monitor the child and the child's family and shall seek court-ordered medical intervention when the lack of medical care threatens the child's life or long-term health. The family shall be referred for general protective services, if appropriate. This subsection shall not apply if the failure to provide needed medical care causes the death of the child.

The use of reasonable force on or against a child by the child's own parent or person responsible for the child's welfare shall not be considered child abuse if any of the following conditions apply:

  • The use of reasonable force constitutes incidental, minor, or reasonable physical contact with the child that is designed to maintain order and control.
  • The use of reasonable force is necessary for any of the following:
    • To quell a disturbance or remove the child from the scene of a disturbance that threatens physical injury to persons or damage to property
    • To prevent the child from self-inflicted physical harm
    • For self-defense or the defense of another individual
    • To obtain possession of weapons, dangerous objects, or controlled substances or paraphernalia that are on or within the control of the child

Nothing in this chapter shall be construed to restrict the generally recognized existing rights of parents to use reasonable force on or against their children for the purposes of supervision, control, and discipline of their children. Such reasonable force shall not constitute child abuse.

An individual participating in a practice or competition in an interscholastic sport, physical education, a recreational activity, or an extracurricular activity that involves physical contact with a child does not, by itself, constitute contact that is subject to the reporting requirements of this chapter.

No child shall be deemed to be a perpetrator of child abuse based solely on physical or mental injuries caused to another child during a dispute, fight, or scuffle entered into by mutual consent.

A law enforcement official who receives a report of suspected child abuse is not required to make a report to the department if the person allegedly responsible for the child abuse is a nonperpetrator child.

Reasonable force for self-defense or the defense of another individual shall not be considered child abuse.