Definitions of Child Abuse and Neglect - Wisconsin

Date: May 2022

Physical Abuse

Citation: Ann. Stat. §§ 48.02; 48.981

'Abuse' means any of the following:

  • Physical injury inflicted on a child by other than accidental means
  • When used in referring to an unborn child, serious physical harm inflicted on the unborn child and the risk of serious physical harm to the child when born caused by a habitual lack of self-control of the expectant mother of the unborn child in the use of alcoholic beverages, controlled substances, or controlled substance analogs, exhibited to a severe degree
  • Manufacturing methamphetamine in violation of § 961.41(1)(e) under any of the following circumstances:
    • With a child physically present during the manufacture
    • In a child's home, on the premises of a child's home, or in a motor vehicle located on the premises of a child's home
    • Under any circumstances in which a reasonable person should have known that the manufacture would be seen, smelled, or heard by a child

'Physical injury' includes, but is not limited to, lacerations, fractured bones, burns, internal injuries, severe or frequent bruising, or great bodily harm.

'Incident of death or serious injury' means an incident in which a child has died or has been placed in serious or critical condition, as determined by a physician, as a result of any suspected abuse or neglect that has been reported or in which a child who has been placed outside the home by a court order is suspected to have committed suicide.

'Incident of egregious abuse or neglect' means an incident of suspected abuse or neglect that has been reported under this section, other than an incident of death or serious injury, involving significant violence, torture, multiple victims, the use of inappropriate or cruel restraints, exposure of a child to a dangerous situation, or other similar, aggravated circumstances.


Citation: Ann. Stat. § 48.02

'Neglect' means failure, refusal, or inability on the part of a caregiver, for reasons other than poverty, to provide necessary care, food, clothing, medical or dental care, or shelter so as to seriously endanger the physical health of the child.

Sexual Abuse/Exploitation

Citation: Ann. Stat. § 48.02

The term 'abuse' includes any of the following:

  • Sexual intercourse or sexual contact
  • Sexual exploitation of a child
  • Sex trafficking of a child
  • Permitting, allowing, or encouraging a child to engage in prostitution
  • Causing a child to view or listen to sexual activity
  • The exposure of one's genitals to a child

Emotional Abuse

Citation: Ann. Stat. § 48.02

The term 'abuse' includes emotional damage for which the child's parent, guardian, or legal custodian has neglected, refused, or been unable, for reasons other than poverty, to obtain the necessary treatment or to take steps to ameliorate the symptoms.

'Emotional damage' means harm to a child's psychological or intellectual functioning. 'Emotional damage' shall be evidenced by one or more of the following characteristics exhibited to a severe degree: anxiety, depression, withdrawal, or outward aggressive behavior; a substantial and observable change in behavior or emotional response; or cognition that is not within the normal range for the child's age and stage of development.


This issue is not addressed in the statutes reviewed.

Standards for Reporting

Citation: Ann. Stat. § 48.981

A report is required when a mandatory reporter has reasonable cause to suspect that a child seen by the person in the course of their professional duties has been abused or neglected or has reason to believe that a child seen by the person in the course of their professional duties has been threatened with abuse or neglect and that abuse or neglect of the child will occur.

Persons Responsible for the Child

Citation: Ann. Stat. § 48.981

'Caregiver' means, with respect to a child who is the victim or alleged victim of abuse or neglect or who is threatened with abuse or neglect, any of the following persons:

  • The child's parent, grandparent, great-grandparent, stepparent, brother, sister, stepbrother, stepsister, half-brother, or half-sister
  • The child's guardian or legal custodian
  • A person who resides or has resided regularly or intermittently in the same dwelling as the child
  • An employee of a residential facility or residential care center for children and youth in which the child was or is placed
  • A person who provides or has provided care for the child in or outside of the child's home
  • Any other person who exercises or has exercised temporary or permanent control over the child or who temporarily or permanently supervises or has supervised the child
  • Any relative of the child other than one listed above


Citation: Ann. Stat. § 48.02

It is not considered neglect when the failure to provide a child with necessary care, food, clothing, shelter, medical, or dental care is due to poverty.