Definitions of Child Abuse and Neglect

The following operational definitions are working definitions and examples of child abuse, neglect, and in danger of abuse.

  • For the purposes of these operational definitions, the term child refers to any person under 18 years of age or any person under 21 years of age who is a DCF client.
  • A person responsible for a child’s care includes the child’s parent, guardian, foster parent, an employee of a public or private residential home, agency or institution or other person legally responsible under State law for the child’s welfare in a residential setting; or any staff person providing out-of-home care, including center-based child day care, family day care, or group day care.
  • A caretaker is an individual in whose care a biological or adoptive parent or legal guardian has left a child on an extended basis and who exercises parental authority in the capacity of a guardian.
  • The phrase perpetrator given access to the child by the person responsible for the child’s care refers to those circumstances when the person responsible for the child’s care uses poor judgment in entrusting the child to another individual who then causes injury to the child.


  • is a non-accidental injury to a child which, regardless of motive, is inflicted or allowed to be inflicted by the person responsible for the child’s care
  • includes:
    • any injury which is at variance with the history given
    • maltreatment such as, but not limited to, malnutrition, sexual molestation, deprivation of necessities, emotional maltreatment or cruel punishment.


Description/Examples: Physical Abuse

Physical abuse is any physical injury inflicted other than by accidental means, any injury at variance with the history given of them, or a child’s condition which is the result of maltreatment such as malnutrition, deprivation of necessities or cruel punishment. Examples of injuries which may result from physical abuse include:

  • head injuries
  • bruises, cuts, or lacerations
  • internal injuries
  • burns, scalds
  • reddening or blistering of the tissue through application of heat by fire, chemical substances, cigarettes, matches, electricity, scalding water, friction, etc.
  • injuries to bone, muscle, cartilage, ligaments fractures, dislocations, sprains, strains, displacements, hematomas, etc.
  • death

Description/Examples: Sexual Abuse and Exploitation
Sexual Abuse is any incident of sexual contact involving a child that is inflicted or allowed to be inflicted by the person responsible for the child’s care.

Sexual abuse includes, but is not limited to, the following:

  • rape
  • intercourse
  • sodomy
  • fondling
  • oral sex
  • incest
  • sexual penetration: digital, penile, or foreign objects.
  • Sexual exploitation of a child includes permitting, allowing, coercing or forcing a child to:
    • participate in pornography
    • engage in sexual behavior.

Description/Examples: Emotional Abuse or Maltreatment
Emotional abuse or maltreatment is the result of cruel or unconscionable acts and/or statements made, threatened to be made, or allowed to be made by the person responsible for the child’s care that have a direct effect on the child.

The observable and substantial impairment of the child’s psychological, cognitive, emotional and/or social well-being and functioning must be related to the behavior of the person responsible for the child’s care.

Emotional abuse or maltreatment may result from:

  • repeated negative acts or statements directed at the child
  • exposure to repeated violent, brutal, or intimidating acts or statements among members of the household
  • cruel or unusual actions used in the attempt to gain submission, enforce maximum control, or to modify the child’s behavior
  • rejection of the child.



Neglect is the failure, whether intentional or not, of the person responsible for the child’s care to provide and maintain adequate food, clothing, medical care, supervision, and/or education.
A child may be found neglected who:

  • has been abandoned
  • is being denied proper care and attention physically, educationally, emotionally, or morally
  • is being permitted to live under conditions, circumstances or associations injurious to his well-being
  • is being abused.


Description/Examples: Physical Neglect
The following are examples of physical neglect:

  • the failure to provide adequate food, shelter, and clothing appropriate to the climatic and environmental conditions
  • the failure to provide, whether intentional or otherwise, supervision or a reliable person(s) to provide child care
  • leaving a child alone for an excessive period of time given the child’s age and cognitive abilities
  • holding the child responsible for the care of siblings or others where beyond the child’s ability
  • the person responsible for the child’s care displays erratic or impaired behavior
  • the person responsible for the child’s care is unable to consistently perform the minimum of child-caring tasks
  • death.

Description/Examples: Medical Neglect

Medical neglect is:

  • the refusal or failure on the part of the person responsible for the child’s care to seek, obtain, and/or maintain those services for necessary medical, dental, or mental health care
  • withholding medically indicated treatment from disabled infants with life-threatening conditions.

Note: Failure to provide the child with immunizations or routine well child care in and of itself does not constitute medical neglect.

Description/Examples: Educational Neglect

Educational neglect occurs when, by reason of the actions or inaction on the part of the person responsible for the child’s care, a child age seven (7) years old through fifteen (15) years old either:

  • is not registered in school; or
  • is not allowed to attend school.

Description/Examples: Emotional and Moral Neglect

Emotional and Moral Neglect is the denial of proper care and attention to  the child, emotionally and/or morally, by the person responsible for the child’s care that may result in the child’s maladaptive functioning.

Harmful behaviors by the person responsible include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • encouraging the child to steal or engage in other illegal activities
  • encouraging the child to use drugs and/or alcohol
  • recognizing the child’s need but failing to provide the child with emotional nurturance
  • having inappropriate expectations of the child given the child’s developmental level.

Note: For court intervention regarding emotional neglect, a statement from a mental health provider documenting the condition is required.

Circumstances Injurious

Description/Examples: In Danger of Abuse

In danger of abuse includes:

  • actions or statements conveying threats of physical or mental injury
  • a real threat to the child’s well-being as perceived by the child
  • the person responsible for the child’s care exposing the child to dangerous and/or violent situations.

Description/Examples: High Risk Newborns

Newborn children will be considered to be at risk because of a combination of both their own special needs and their mother’s condition or behavior.

Indicators of special needs newborns include, but are not limited to:

  • a positive urine or meconium toxicology for drugs
  • a positive test for HIV virus
  • a serious medical problem.

Indicators in the mother’s condition or behavior include, but are not limited to:

  • substance abuse
  • intellectual limitations which may impair the mother’s ability to nurture or physically care for the child
  • major psychiatric illness
  • >young age, causing inability to care for self or newborn.

Source: information is taken from Department of children and Families: