Definitions of Child Abuse and Neglect - Tennessee

Date:

Physical Abuse

Citation: Ann. Code § 37-1-102

'Abuse' exists when a person under age 18 is suffering from, has sustained, or may be in immediate danger of suffering from or sustaining a wound, injury, disability, or physical or mental condition caused by brutality, neglect, or other actions or inactions of a parent, relative, guardian, or caregiver.

'Severe child abuse' means any of the following:

  • The knowing exposure of a child to, or the knowing failure to protect a child from, abuse or neglect that is likely to cause serious bodily injury or death and the knowing use of force on a child that is likely to cause serious bodily injury
  • Specific brutality, abuse, or neglect toward a child that, in the opinion of qualified experts, has caused or will reasonably be expected to produce severe psychosis, severe neurotic disorder, severe depression, severe developmental delay or retardation, or severe impairment of the child's ability to function adequately in the child's environment and the knowing failure to protect a child from such conduct
  • The commission of any of the following acts toward the child:
    • Trafficking for a commercial sex act
    • Rape, aggravated rape, or rape of a child
    • Aggravated sexual battery
    • Promoting prostitution
    • Sexual battery by an authority figure
    • Aggravated rape of a child
    • Statutory rape by an authority figure
    • Incest
    • Aggravated child abuse, neglect, or endangerment
    • Aggravated sexual exploitation of a minor
  • The knowing failure to protect the child from the commission of any the preceding acts toward the child
  • Knowingly allowing a child to be present within a structure where the act of creating methamphetamine is occurring
  • Knowingly or with gross negligence allowing a child under age 8 to ingest an illegal or controlled substance that results in the child testing positive on a drug screen, except as legally prescribed to the child
  • Knowingly allowing a child to be within a structure where any of the following controlled substances are present and accessible to the child:
    • Any Schedule I controlled substance listed in § 39-17-406
    • Cocaine, methamphetamine, or fentanyl

'Significant injury' means bodily injury, including a cut, abrasion, bruise, burn, or disfigurement, and physical pain or temporary illness or impairment of the function of a bodily member, organ, or mental faculty, involving any of the following:

  • A substantial risk of death
  • Protracted unconsciousness
  • Extreme physical pain
  • Protracted or obvious disfigurement
  • Protracted loss or substantial impairment of a function of a bodily member, organ, or mental faculty

Neglect

Citation: Ann. Code § 37-1-102

'Dependent and neglected child' means a child to whom any of the following apply:

  • Who is without a parent, guardian, or legal custodian
  • Whose parent, guardian, or person with whom the child lives, by reason of cruelty, mental incapacity, immorality, or depravity, is unfit to care properly for the child
  • Who is under unlawful or improper care, supervision, custody, or restraint by any person, corporation, agency, association, institution, society, or other organization or who is unlawfully kept out of school
  • Whose parent, guardian, or custodian neglects or refuses to provide necessary medical, surgical, institutional, or hospital care
  • Who, because of lack of proper supervision, is found in a place the existence of which is in violation of law
  • Who is in a condition of such want or suffering, or is under such improper guardianship or control, as to injure or endanger the morals or health of the child or others
  • Who is suffering from abuse or neglect
  • Who has been in the care and control of one or more agencies or persons not related by blood or marriage for a continuous period of 6 months or longer in the absence of a power of attorney or court order, and that person or agency has not initiated judicial proceedings seeking either legal custody or adoption of the child
  • Who is or has been allowed, encouraged, or permitted to engage in prostitution or obscene or pornographic photographing, filming, posing, or similar activity and whose parent or guardian neglects or refuses to protect the child from further such activity
  • Who willfully has been left in the sole financial and physical care of a related caregiver for no less than 18 consecutive months by the child's parent(s) or legal custodian, and the child will suffer substantial harm if removed from the continuous care of such relative

Sexual Abuse/Exploitation

Citation: Ann. Code § 37-1-602

'Child sexual abuse' means the commission of any act involving the unlawful sexual abuse, molestation, fondling, or carnal knowledge of a child under age 13 that, on or after November 1, 1989, constituted any of the following criminal offenses:

  • Aggravated rape, sexual battery, or sexual exploitation of a minor
  • Criminal attempt for any of the offenses listed above
  • Especially aggravated sexual exploitation of a minor
  • Incest
  • Rape, sexual battery, or sexual exploitation of a minor

The term 'child sexual abuse' also 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 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • Sexual exploitation of a child, which includes allowing, encouraging, or forcing a child to solicit for or engage in prostitution or engage in sexual exploitation
  • The commission of any act toward the child prohibited by § 39-13-309 (trafficking for a commercial sex act)

Emotional Abuse

Citation: Ann. Code §§ 37-1-102; 37-1-602

The term 'severe child abuse' means specific brutality, abuse, or neglect toward a child that, in the opinion of qualified experts, has caused or will reasonably be expected to produce severe psychosis, severe neurotic disorder, severe depression, severe developmental delay or intellectual disability, or severe impairment of the child's ability to function adequately in the child's environment and the knowing failure to protect a child from such conduct.

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

Abandonment

Citation: Ann. Code § 37-1-102

The term 'dependent and neglected child' includes a child who is without a parent, guardian, or legal custodian.

Standards for Reporting

Citation: Ann. Code §§ 37-1-403; 37-1-605

A report is required when any person has knowledge of, or is called upon to render aid to, any child who is suffering from or has sustained any wound, injury, disability, or physical or mental condition if the harm is of such a nature as to reasonably indicate that it has been caused by brutality, abuse, or neglect or that, on the basis of available information, reasonably appears to have been caused by brutality, abuse, or neglect.

A report is required when any person knows or has reasonable cause to suspect that a child has been sexually abused.

Persons Responsible for the Child

Citation: Ann. Code §§ 37-1-102; 37-1-602

'Caregiver' means any relative or other person living, visiting, or working in the child's home who supervises or otherwise provides care or assistance for the child, such as a babysitter, or who is an employee or volunteer with the responsibility for any child at an educational, recreational, medical, religious, therapeutic, or other setting where children are present. 'Caregiver' also may include a person who has allegedly used the child for the purpose of commercial sexual exploitation of a minor or trafficking a minor for a commercial sex act, including, but not limited to, as a trafficker. For purposes of this chapter, 'caregiver' and 'caretaker' shall have the same meaning.

A related caregiver shall include the child's birth, step, or legal grandparent; great grandparent; sibling; aunt; uncle; or any other person who is legally or biologically related to the child.

Responsible persons include any of the following:

  • The child's parent, relative, guardian, or caregiver
  • A person with whom the child lives
  • Any 'other person responsible for a child's care or welfare' that includes, but is not limited to, the following:
    • A legal custodian or foster parent
    • An employee of a public or private child care agency or public or private school
    • Any other person legally responsible for the child's welfare in a residential setting

Exceptions

Citation: Ann. Code §§ 37-1-102; 37-1-602

A child willfully left with a related caregiver because of the parent's military service shall not be subject to action pursuant to § 37-1-183.

Child sexual abuse does not include acts intended for a valid medical purpose or acts that may reasonably be construed to be normal caregiver responsibilities or interactions with or affection for a child.