What Constitutes Abuse and Neglect?

What is child abuse?

Child abuse” is defined in Maryland law as:

1)  Physical or mental injury of a child under circumstances that indicate that the child’s health or welfare is harmed or at substantial risk of being harmed;

  • "Mental injury" is defined as the observable, identifiable, and substantial impairment of a child’s mental or psychological ability to function.

2)  Sexual abuse of a child, whether physical injuries are sustained or not.

  • “Sexual abuse" is defined as any act that involves sexual molestation or exploitation of a child. It includes a wide array of sexual conduct including such things as exposure, sexual advances, and engaging in the pornographic display of a child.

What is child neglect?

"Child neglect" is defined in Maryland law as the failure to give proper care and attention to a child, including leaving the child unattended, under circumstances indicating:

1)  That the child’s health or welfare is harmed or placed at substantial risk of harm; or

2)  Mental injury to the child or a substantial risk of mental injury.

What are some of the indicators of child abuse and neglect?

Physical Indicators

Sexual Abuse Indicators

Neglect Indicators

  • Physically injurious behavior beyond physical discipline  Unexplained bruises; or a pattern of bruises
  • Cuts and burns (cigarette, liquid) to the body
  • Rope marks or burns
  • Fractures/broken bones
  • Welts, abrasions
  • Bite marks or puncture wounds
  • Chipped teeth
  • Difficulty or painful walking
  • Injury or reported pain or itching in genital area
  • Expressions of sexual knowledge or behavior inappropriate for age
  • Verbalization of sexual involvement or victimization of other children
  • Sexually suggestive behavior
  • Pregnancy under 12 years of age
  • Extreme and unusual changes in personality, behavior and/or emotions (e.g., acting out, fear of being in the company of someone whom the child initially trusted)
  • Dirty, unkempt
  • Untreated serious medical problems
  • Obvious malnourishment
  • Listlessness, fatigue
  • Child left unattended or without supervision
  • Inadequate clothing for weather

Who is considered to be a “child” under Maryland child abuse and neglect laws?

For the purposes of Maryland’s child abuse and neglect laws, a “child” is defined as any individual under the age of eighteen (18) years.

Are all suspected perpetrators subject to the Maryland child abuse and neglect laws?

No. Maryland law only applies if the abuse or neglect was committed by:

  • A parent;
  • A person who has permanent or temporary care or custody of the child, or responsibility for supervision of the child; or
  • A household or family member (in the case of abuse).

How do I determine if physical discipline is considered child abuse?

This is a complicated question. In some families and cultures, physical discipline (spanking, hitting, or whipping) is a common practice in managing the behavior of children. Generally, physical discipline should be reported as abuse if it leaves an injury and either harmed the child or put the child’s health and welfare at substantial risk of harm. Child Protective Services (“CPS”) will then determine whether the punishment was abusive considering the totality of the circumstances, including the severity of the injury, nature of the punishment, gravity of the act being punished, and the adult’s attempt to use other nonphysical means of discipline.

How do I distinguish between child sexual abuse and the crime of sexual assault?

Much of what is reported to Child Protective Services as child sexual abuse also constitutes a crime such as criminal child sexual abuse, sexual assault, incest, or rape. However, it does not always work the other way around; not every sexual assault perpetrated on a child is reportable to Child Protective Services as child sexual abuse. Unless a sexual act was perpetrated by a parent, household or family member, or other person caring for or supervising a child, it is not considered to be reportable “child sexual abuse,” even if it is unwelcome or nonconsensual touching that would constitute a sexual assault.

Of course, if you should ever witness the sexual assault of the child — regardless of whether it fits the definition of child sexual abuse — you are encouraged to call 911 to report it.

What if someone was sexually abused at the age of five (5) by another sibling who was nine (9) at the time?

Under Maryland’s child abuse reporting laws, the sexual abuse must be reported if it involves sexual molestation or exploitation of a child … by any household or family member.” Given that the two children are “household members,” you are mandated to report. The CPS case worker can make a determination of whether it should be investigated.