What Is Child Abuse and Neglect?
Child maltreatment is a broad term that can encompass any cruelty inflicted upon a child: mental or emotional abuse, physical harm, neglect, sexual abuse, sexual exploitation or human trafficking (both sex trafficking and labor trafficking). And it’s not uncommon for a child to be the victim of several types of maltreatment at the same time. Although states have child abuse prevention statutes and regulations that define these basic categories, specifics vary. For the sake of this Safe Kids Thrive resource, we rely on the Massachusetts Department of Children & Families (DCF) regulations (110 CMR, Section 2.00) to define the various types of child abuse and neglect for the Commonwealth.
The non-accidental commission of any act by a caretaker upon a child under age 18 which causes, or creates a substantial risk of physical or emotional injury; or constitutes a sexual offense under the laws of the Commonwealth; or any sexual contact between a caretaker and a child under the care of that individual. This definition is not dependent upon location (i.e., abuse can occur while the child is in an out-of-home or in-home setting).
Failure by a caretaker, either deliberately or through negligence or inability, to take actions necessary to provide a child with minimally adequate food, clothing, shelter, medical care, supervision, emotional stability, and growth or other essential care—provided, however, that such inability is not due solely to inadequate economic resources or solely to the existence of a handicapping condition. This definition is not dependent upon location (i.e., neglect can occur while the child is in an out-of-home or in-home setting).
An impairment to or disorder of the intellectual or psychological capacity of a child as evidenced by observable and substantial reduction in the child’s ability to function within a normal range of performance and behavior.
Death, or fracture of a bone, subdural hematoma, burns, impairment of any organ, and any other such non-trivial injury; or soft tissue swelling or skin bruising, depending on such factors as the child’s age, circumstances under which the injury occurred, and the number and location of bruises; or addiction to a drug or drugs at birth; or failure to thrive.
Institutional Abuse or Neglect
Abuse or neglect which occurs in any facility for children, including, but not limited to, group homes, residential or public or private schools, hospitals, detention and treatment facilities, family foster care homes, group daycare centers, and family day care homes.
Sexually Exploited Child
Any person under the age of 18 who has been subjected to sexual exploitation because such person:
- Is the victim of the crime of sexual servitude pursuant to section 50 of chapter 265 or is the victim of sex trafficking as defined in 22 United States Code 7105.
- Engages, agrees to engage, or offers to engage in sexual conduct with another person in exchange for a fee, in violation of subsection (a) of section 53A of chapter 272, or in exchange for food, shelter, clothing, education or care.
- Is a victim of the crime of inducing a minor into prostitution under section 4A of chapter 272.
- Engages in common night walking or common streetwalking under section 53 of chapter 272.
A person who is subjected to harboring, recruitment, transportation, provision, obtaining, patronizing, or soliciting for the purpose of:
- Sex trafficking (i.e., inducement to perform a commercial sex act, forced sexual services and/or sexually explicit performance).
- Labor trafficking (i.e., forced services, involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery).
Throughout Safe Kids Thrive, we sometimes use the words “child” and “youth” interchangeably. Massachusetts law on the care and protection of children defines a child as a person under the age of 18. But when we need to differentiate between younger and older minors by age or developmental stage, a child is defined in this website as an individual between newborn and age 11, and a youth is defined as an individual between age 12 and their 18th birthday.
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