Uniform Definitions

Current Definitions in Federal Law:

Federal legislation provides a foundation for States by identifying a minimum set of acts or behaviors that define child abuse and neglect. The 
Federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) (42 U.S.C.A. §5106g), as amended by the Keeping Children and Families Safe Act of 
2003; defines child abuse and neglect as, at minimum:

Any recent act or failure to act on the part of a parent or caretaker which results in death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse or 
exploitation; or an act or failure to act which presents an imminent risk of serious harm.

This definition of child abuse and neglect refers specifically to parents or other
caregivers. A “child” under this definition generally means a person who is under the age of 18 or who is not an emancipated minor.

While CAPTA provides definitions for sexual abuse and the special cases related to withholding or failing to provide medically indicated treatment, it 
does not provide specific definitions for other types of maltreatment such as physical abuse, neglect, or emotional abuse. While Federal legislation 
sets minimum standards, each state is responsible for providing its own definition within civil and criminal contexts.

Child abuse is harm to, or neglect of, a child by another person, whether adult or child. Abuse can happen in any family, regardless of any special 
characteristics such as cultural, ethnic, or income. Child abuse can be physical, emotional – verbal, sexual or through neglect. Abuse may cause 
serious injury to the child and may even result in death.

I have examined the laws in all fifty states and in general they use the basic definition of the Federal Law. They then have an assortment of guidelines 
defining specifics. They vary from state to state and unfortunately county to county as well as the state guidelines are just that…guidelines.

I have also noticed that neither the Federal law nor state laws address whether a person acts intentionally, knowingly or willingly as opposed to 
accidental. The definitions of “abuse and neglect” have become so broadly defined that almost anybody could have such a charge made against 

I addressed before in my article about “Child Protective Services” that one of our current problems is due to the lack of uniformity of laws/guidelines 
defining what child abuse/neglect is. I feel they should be uniform.

What is abuse/neglect in one county or state should be the exact same in another. This is one subject where one size should fit all.

Below, after consulting with many people and completing my own research, I have written what I feel could be the law across the country if the US 
Congress would pass such legislation applicable across the country. I also address a few other issues that may relate to the topic.

Physical abuse:
Physical abuse, which is 18% of all substantiated cases of child abuse, is the most visible form of abuse.

It should be defined as: An intentional or knowingly or willful physical act by any adult of a child which results in a non-accidental trauma, serious 
physical injury or death of the child. It may also apply to any adult who witnesses these acts and intentionally or knowingly or willfully and fails to 
protect the child.

Inflicted physical injury most often represents unreasonable, severe corporal punishment or unjustifiable punishment. Such injuries can be caused by: 
striking, shaking throwing, punching, beating, kicking, biting, burning or otherwise harming a child.

This also includes but is not limited to: unnecessary, illegal, or excessive prenatal drug exposure.

While any of these injuries can occur accidentally when a child is at play, physical abuse should be suspected if the explanations do not fit the injury 
or if a pattern of frequency is apparent. Physical abuse thus could also be unexplained or repeated injuries such as welts, bruises, or burns; injuries 
that are in the shape of an object (belt buckle, electric cord, etc.); injuries not likely to happen given the age or ability of the child (IE: broken bones in 
a child too young to walk or climb); unreasonable explanation of the injury.