Definitions of Child Abuse and Neglect - Washington

Date: May 2022

Physical Abuse

Citation: Rev. Code §§ 26.44.020; 26.44.030; 9A.16.100

'Abuse or neglect' means the injury of a child by any person under circumstances that cause harm to the child's health, welfare, or safety or the negligent treatment or maltreatment of a child by a person responsible for or providing care to the child. An abused child is a child who has been subjected to child abuse or neglect.

'Severe abuse' means any of the following:

  • Any single act of abuse that causes physical trauma of sufficient severity that, if left untreated, could cause 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

Any use of force on a child by any other person is unlawful unless it is reasonable and moderate and is authorized in advance by the child's parent or guardian for purposes of restraining or correcting the child. The following actions are presumed unreasonable when used to correct or restrain a child:

  • Throwing, kicking, burning, or cutting a child
  • Striking a child with a closed fist
  • Shaking a child younger than age 3
  • Interfering with a child's breathing
  • Threatening a child with a deadly weapon
  • Doing any other act that is likely to cause and that does cause bodily harm greater than transient pain or minor temporary marks

The age, size, and condition of the child and the location of the injury shall be considered when determining whether the bodily harm is reasonable or moderate. This list is illustrative of unreasonable actions and is not intended to be exclusive.


Citation: Rev. Code §§ 26.44.020; 9A.42.100

'Negligent treatment or maltreatment' means an act or a failure to act, or the cumulative effects of a pattern of conduct, behavior, or inaction, that evidences a serious disregard of consequences of such magnitude as to constitute a clear and present danger to a child's health, welfare, or safety, including, but not limited to, conduct prohibited under § 9A.42.100 (endangerment with a controlled substance). When considering whether a clear and present danger exists, evidence of a parent's substance abuse as a contributing factor to negligent treatment or maltreatment shall be given great weight.

It is 'endangerment with a controlled substance' if the person knowingly or intentionally permits a dependent child to be exposed to, ingest, inhale, or have contact with methamphetamine or ephedrine, pseudoephedrine, or anhydrous ammonia, including their salts, isomers, and salts of isomers, which are being used in the manufacture of methamphetamine, including its salts, isomers, and salts of isomers.

Sexual Abuse/Exploitation

Citation: Rev. Code § 26.44.020

The term 'abuse or neglect' includes the sexual abuse or sexual exploitation of a child by any person under circumstances that indicate that the child's health, welfare, and safety are harmed.

'Sexual exploitation' includes the following:

  • Allowing, permitting, or encouraging a child to engage in prostitution by any person
  • Allowing, permitting, encouraging, or engaging in the obscene or pornographic photographing, filming, or depicting of a child by any person

Emotional Abuse

This issue is not addressed in the statutes reviewed.


Citation: Rev. Code § 13.34.030

'Abandoned' means when the child's parent, guardian, or other custodian has expressed, either by statement or conduct, an intent to forego, for an extended period, parental rights or responsibilities despite an ability to exercise such rights and responsibilities. If the court finds that the petitioner has exercised due diligence in attempting to locate the parent, no contact between the child and the child's parent, guardian, or other custodian for a period of 3 months creates a rebuttable presumption of abandonment, even if there is no expressed intent to abandon.

Standards for Reporting

Citation: Rev. Code § 26.44.030

A report is required when a mandatory reporter has reasonable cause to believe that a child has suffered abuse or neglect.

Persons Responsible for the Child

Citation: Rev. Code § 26.44.020

Any person can be a responsible person.


Citation: Rev. Code §§ 26.44.015; 26.44.020; 9A.16.100

This chapter shall not be construed to authorize interference with child-raising practices, including reasonable parental discipline, that are not injurious to a child's health, welfare, and safety.

Nothing in this chapter may be used to prohibit the reasonable use of corporal punishment as a means of discipline.

No parent or guardian may be deemed abusive or neglectful solely by reason of the parent's or child's blindness, deafness, developmental disability, or other disability.

The fact that siblings share a bedroom is not, in and of itself, negligent treatment or maltreatment. Poverty, experiencing homelessness, or exposure to domestic violence that is perpetrated against someone other than the child does not constitute negligent treatment or maltreatment in and of itself.

'Experiencing homelessness' means lacking a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence, including circumstances such as sharing the housing of other persons due to loss of housing, economic hardship, fleeing domestic violence, or a similar reason as described in the Federal McKinney-Vento homeless assistance act (title 42 U.S.C., chapter 119, subchapter I) as it existed on January 1, 2021.

A person who is being furnished Christian Science treatment by a duly accredited Christian Science practitioner will not be considered, for that reason alone, a neglected person.

The physical discipline of a child is not unlawful when it is reasonable and moderate and is inflicted by a parent, teacher, or guardian for purposes of restraining or correcting the child.