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What’s Considered Child Abuse?

Child Abuse: A Situational & Case-Specific Offense

We are now entering Week 5 of following Colorado’s Stay At Home Order. Or is it Week 6? The time really does blend together when you’re stuck at home! While most of us are eager to resume life as normal, some may be looking forward to it more than others. Unfortunately, when people are stuck indoors with their family for long periods of time there is a potential for an increase in domestic violence and child abuse cases. (For more on Domestic Violence, see our posts Understanding Domestic Violence, Unintended Domestic Violence and plenty others.) Many areas have already been seeing this increase with DV, and child abuse cases are starting to follow. However, it is likely that there is significantly more abuse occurring than what is being reported. With schools shut down, many children are not seeing teachers, counselors, or other adults who would normally raise concerns about their wellbeing.

What is Considered Child Abuse?

The definition of child abuse includes a wide range of behaviors, and not all of them are physical. When accused of child abuse, the court will consider the alleged abusive behavior and the intent behind it. 

What Is Considered Child Abuse? 

Child abuse goes far beyond physical violence and can also vary widely between states. Some of the many things that can be considered child abuse are: 

  • Excessive physical restraint or periods of isolation 
  • Leaving your child unsupervised or with a person who is incapable of supervising
  • Making believable threats to kill or severely injure a child 
  • Allowing your child to witness or participate in drug or alcohol use
  • Manufacturing (or attempted manufacturing) of controlled substances in the presence of your child 
  • Driving under the influence when your child is present
  • Allowing your child to witness domestic violence
  • Being unwilling to meet your child’s basic needs for food, shelter, clothing, or a safe environment 
  • Being unwilling to seek or provide medical care
  • Not allowing your child to have appropriate educational instruction
  • Failing to make reasonable efforts to locate your child if they are missing 
  • Engaging in sexual activity in your child’s presence 

And plenty more. Striking your child with an object or fist with the intention of harm is also child abuse, with the exception of ‘reasonable parent discipline’. The term reasonable parent discipline includes spanking or related discipline, but there are limits. It has to be “reasonable” and cause no bodily injury to the child. When deciding if discipline is reasonable, the court may look at the severity of injury, the child’s age, and the portion of the punishment to misbehavior.

Criminal Intent 

When looking at child abuse cases, the intent behind the abusive behavior will also be considered. The courts look to a mental state of either knowingly, recklessly, or negligently depending on the circumstances and crime charged. These terms apply to a wide variety of criminal offenses, with child abuse included. 

Knowing acts are committed intentionally, with the offender generally aware of the abusive nature of their acts. Abusing your child with the intent of harm would be considered a “knowing” child abuse act. 

Reckless acts are done intentionally with a disregard to the potential consequences of that act. If you drive under the influence with your children in the car, that would be considered a “reckless” child abuse act. 

Negligent acts are committed when the offender fails to perceive a substantial risk, and does not perform the standard of care that a reasonable person would exercise.  An example of a “negligent” child abuse act is leaving your young child at home unsupervised while you go run errands.

Overall, there are no hard and fast rules for those charged with child abuse. It is largely case-specific, and the court will consider the entire situation of the alleged abusive behavior and the intent behind it. 

Mandatory Reporting 

People who fail to report child abuse can also face penalties. A mandatory reporter could be teachers, counselors, day-care supervisors, health care professionals, and many other adults who are in a position to notice signs of child abuse. These individuals have a higher responsibility as professionals to notice and report child abuse. The Division of Child Welfare has estimated that in Colorado, 75% of child abuse reports come from mandatory reporters, 15% from family members, and 10% from the public. If any of these mandatory reporters have reasonable cause to suspect a child is being abused or neglected, they must immediately report this information. Consequently, if they fail to do so they could be charged with a class 3 misdemeanor and receive fines or imprisonment. 

Need Legal Help? 

Child abuse is an unpleasant subject. However, as criminal defense attorneys we understand some behaviors are unintentional or accidental, and may be better addressed through treatment rather than imprisonment. If you are in need of legal help consider reaching out to Nicol Gersch Petterson for a free 30-minute consultation. Find more information at https://NicolGerschLaw.Com or call 970.670.0378.

IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER: This blog post does not create an attorney-client relationship. It’s a blog post and not legal advice. Each case is different, and this post is meant for generalized knowledge, only. If you haven’t signed an engagement letter (or even received an engagement letter) AND issued some form of payment (peanuts do not count), then no attorney-client relationship exists. Nevertheless, we will do our best to ensure your confidentiality should you choose to contact us privately, but please do not post about your case in the comments here.

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