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What is child abuse and neglect?

The Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) is the key legislation used to address the issue of child abuse and neglect.  CAPTA is known for providing federal funding to states in support of prevention, assessment, investigation, prosecution and treatment.  In addition to state funding, CAPTA provides public agencies and nonprofit organizations for demonstrations and projects in order to spread the word of child abuse.

CAPTA is responsible for identifying the federal government's role insupporting research, evaluation, technical assistance, and data collection activies.  In addition CAPTA also establishes the Office on Child Abuse and Neglect and mandates Child Welfare Information Gateway.

Within the minimum standards set by CAPTA, each state is responsible for providing its own definitions of child abuse and neglect.  Most states recognize four major types of maltreatment, physical abuse, neglect, sexual abuse and emotional abuse.  Although any of the forms of child maltreatment may be found separately, they often occur in combination.  In many states, abandonment and parental substance abuse are also defined as forms of child abuse or neglect.

The examples provided below are for general informational purposes only.  Not all states' definitions will include all of the examples listed below, and individual states' definitions may cover additional situations not mentioned here.

Physical abuse is nonaccidental injury (ranging from minor bruises to severe fractures or death) as a result of punching, beating, kicking, biting, shaking, throwing, stabbing, choking, hitting (with a hand or an object), burning or otherwise harming a child that is inflicted by a parent, caregiver, or other person who has responsibility for the child.  Such injury is considered abuse regardless of whether the caregiver intended to hurt the child.  Physical discipline, such as spanking or paddling, is not considered abuse as long as it is reasonable and does not cause bodily injury to the child.

Neglect is the failure of a parent, guardian, or other caregiver to provide for a child's basic needs.  Neglect may be:

  • Physical (e.g., failure to provide necessary food or shelter, or lack of appropriate supervision)
  • Medical (e.g., failure to provide necessary medical or mental health treatment)
  • Educational (e.g., failure to educate a child or attend to special education needs)
  • Emotional (e.g., inattenteion to a child's emotional needs, failure to provide psychological care, or permitting the child to use alcohol or other drugs)

These situations do not always mean a child is neglected.  Sometimes cultural values, the standards of care in the community, and poverty may be contributing factors, indicating the family is in need of information or assistance.  When a family fails to use information and resources, and the child's health or safety is at risk, then child welfare intervention may be required.  In addition, many states provide an exception to the definition of neglect for parents who choose not to seek medical care for their children due to religious beliefs that may prohibit medical intervention.

Sexual Abuse includes activities by a parent or caregiver such as fondling a child's genitals, penetration, incest, rape, sodomy, indecent exposure, and exploitation through prostitution or the production of pornographic materials.

(Sexual abuse is defined by CAPTA as 'the employment, use, persuasion, inducement, enticement or coercion of any child to engage in/or assist any other person to engage in any sexually explicit conduct or simulation of such conduct for the purpose of producing a visual depiction of such conduct; or the rape, and in cases of caretaker or inter-familial relationships; statutory rape, molestion, prostitution, or other form of sexual exploitation of children, or incest with children.')

Emotional Abuse (or psychological abuse) is a pattern of behavior that impairs a child's emotional development or sense of self-worth.  This may include constant criticism, threats, or rejection, as well as withholding love, support, or guidance.  Emotional abuse is often difficult to prove and therefore, child protective services may not be able to intervene without evidence of harm or mental injury to the child.  Emotional abuse is almost always present when other forms are identified.

Abandonment is now defined in many states as a form of neglect.  In general, a child is considered to be abandoned, when the parent's identity or whereabouts are unknown, the child has been left alone in circumstances where the child suffers serious harm, or the parent has failed to maintain contact with the child or provide reasonable support for a specified period of time.

Substance abuse is an element of the definition of child abuse or neglect in many states.  Circumstances that are considered abuse or neglect in some states include:

  • Prenatal exposure of a child to harm due to the mother's use of an illegal drug or other substance

  • Manufacture of methamphetamine in the presence of a child

  • Selling, distributing, or giving illegal drugs or alcohol to a child

  • Use of a controlled substance by a caregiver that impairs the caregiver's ability to adequately care for the child


How to Report Child Abuse or Neglect

Louisiana Department Of Social Services for St. Helena:

(This parish is served by the Tangipahoa Parish office.)
721 South First Street
Amite, La. 70422
(985) 748-2001
Regional Ofc: Covington

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