PA: Child Abuse, Recognition and Reporting for Mandated Reporters, 3 units
Categories of Child Abuse
Pennsylvania’s Child Protective Services Law recognizes different categories of abuse in its definitions. In general, actions that are intentional1, knowing2, or reckless3 are considered child abuse if the victim is under the age of 18. The law also defines and describes the categories of child abuse.
1Intentional: intending to cause the harm that occurred. A person acts intentionally when they consciously engage in conduct of that nature or cause such a result and are aware of such circumstances or believe or hope that they exist (PDHS, 2016)
2Knowing: knowing that the result is practically certain. A person acts knowingly when they are aware that their conduct is of that nature or that such circumstances exist and they are aware that it is practically certain that their conduct will cause such a result (PDHS, 2016).
3Reckless: deliberately disregarding foreseeable risk. A person acts recklessly when they consciously disregard a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the material element exists or will result from their conduct. The risk must be of such a nature and degree that, considering the nature and intent of the conduct and the circumstances known to them, its disregard involves a gross deviation from the standard of conduct that a reasonable person would observe in the situation (PDHS, 2016).
Child abuse is intentionally, knowingly or recklessly doing any of the following:
- Causing bodily injury* to a child through any recent act or failure to act.
*Bodily injury: an injury that impairs a child’s physical condition or causes substantial pain (Penn State Hershey Center for the Protection of Children).
- Fabricating, feigning or intentionally exaggerating or inducing a medical symptom or disease which results in a potentially harmful medical evaluation or treatment to the child through any recent act.
- Causing or substantially contributing to serious mental injury to a child through any act or failure to act or a series of such acts or failures to act.
- Causing sexual abuse or exploitation of a child through any act or failure to act.
- Creating a reasonable likelihood of bodily injury to a child through any recent act or failure to act.
- Creating a likelihood of sexual abuse or exploitation of a child through any recent act or failure to act.
- Causing serious physical neglect of a child.
- Engaging in any of the following recent acts:
- Kicking, biting, throwing, burning, stabbing or cutting a child in a manner that endangers the child.
- Unreasonably restraining or confining a child, based on consideration of the method, location or the duration of the restraint or confinement.
- Forcefully shaking a child under one year of age.
- Forcefully slapping or otherwise striking a child under one year of age.
- Interfering with the breathing of a child.
- Causing a child to be present at a location while a violation of 18 Pa.C.S. § 7508.2 (relating to operation of methamphetamine laboratory) is occurring, provided that the violation is being investigated by law enforcement.
- Leaving a child unsupervised with an individual, other than the child’s parent, who the actor knows or reasonably should have known:
- Is required to register as a Tier II or Tier III sexual offender under 42 Pa.C.S. Ch. 97 Subch. H (relating to registration of sexual offenders), where the victim of the sexual offense was under 18 years of age when the crime was committed.
- Has been determined to be a sexually violent predator under 42 Pa.C.S. § 9799.24 (relating to assessments) or any of its predecessors.
- Has been determined to be a sexually violent delinquent child as defined in 42 Pa.C.S. § 9799.12 (relating to definitions).
- Causing the death of the child through any act or failure to act.
- Engaging a child in a severe form of trafficking in persons or sex trafficking, as those terms are defined under section 103 of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000.
Note: The new definition of child abuse applies to schools, school employees, and students, whereas before only allegations of serious bodily injury, sexual abuse, or sexual exploitation were considered. Also, before December 31, 2014, allegations of abuse of students by school employees followed a separate reporting and investigation process. Now all distinctions have been removed and reports go directly to ChildLine.
Sexual Abuse or Exploitation
Sexual abuse or exploitation is any of the following:
- The employment, use, persuasion, inducement, enticement or coercion of a child to engage in or assist another individual to engage in sexually explicit conduct, which includes, but is not limited to, the following:
- Looking at the sexual or other intimate parts of a child or another individual for the purpose of arousing or gratifying sexual desire in any individual.
- Participating in sexually explicit conversation either in person, by telephone, by computer or by a computer-aided device for the purpose of sexual stimulation or gratification of any individual.
- Actual or simulated sexual activity or nudity for the purpose of sexual stimulation or gratification of any individual.
- Actual or simulated sexual activity for the purpose of producing visual depiction, including photographing, videotaping, computer depicting or filming.
This paragraph does not include consensual activities between a child who is 14 years of age or older and another person who is 14 years of age or older and whose age is within four years of the child’s age.
- Any of the following offenses committed against a child:
- Rape as defined in 18 Pa.C.S. § 3121.
- Statutory sexual assault as defined in 18 Pa.C.S. § 3122.1.
- Involuntary deviate sexual intercourse as defined in 18 Pa.C.S. § 3123.
- Sexual assault as defined in 18 Pa.C.S. § 3124.1.
- Institutional sexual assault as defined in 18 Pa.C.S. § 3124.2.
- Aggravated indecent assault as defined in 18 Pa.C.S. § 3125.
- Indecent assault as defined in 18 Pa.C.S. § 3126.
- Indecent exposure as defined in 18 Pa.C.S. § 3127.
- Incest as defined in 18 Pa.C.S. § 4302.
- Prostitution as defined in 18 Pa.C.S. § 5902.
- Sexual abuse as defined in 18 Pa.C.S. § 6312.
- Unlawful contact with a minor as defined in 18 Pa.C.S. § 6318.
- Sexual exploitation as defined in 18 Pa.C.S. § 6320.
Serious Mental Injury
Serious mental injury is a psychological condition, as diagnosed by a physician or licensed psychologist, including the refusal of appropriate treatment, that:
- renders a child chronically and severely anxious, agitated, depressed, socially withdrawn, psychotic or in reasonable fear that the child’s life or safety is threatened; or
- seriously interferes with a child’s ability to accomplish age-appropriate developmental and social tasks.
Serious Physical Neglect
Serious physical neglect is any of the following when committed by a perpetrator that endangers a child’s life or health, threatens a child’s well-being, causes bodily injury or impairs a child’s health, development or functioning:
- A repeated, prolonged or egregious failure to supervise a child in a manner that is appropriate considering the child’s developmental age and abilities.
- The failure to provide a child with adequate essentials of life, including food, shelter or medical care.
Exclusions to Child Abuse
Exclusions to child abuse are outlined in § 6304. These situations must still be reported; however, a CPS investigation may deem the report unsubstantiated and determine that the child has not been abused.
(a) Environmental factors
No child shall be deemed to be physically or mentally abused based on injuries that result solely from environmental factors, such as inadequate housing, furnishings, income, clothing and medical care, that are beyond the control of the parent or person responsible for the child’s welfare with whom the child resides. This subsection shall not apply to any child-care service as defined in this chapter, excluding an adoptive parent.
(b) Practice of religious beliefs
If, upon investigation, the county agency determines that a child has not been provided needed medical or surgical care because of sincerely held religious beliefs of the child’s parents or relative within the third degree of consanguinity and with whom the child resides, which beliefs are consistent with those of a bona fide religion, the child shall not be deemed to be physically or mentally abused. In such cases the following shall apply:
- The county agency shall closely monitor the child and the child’s family and shall seek court-ordered medical intervention when the lack of medical or surgical care threatens the child’s life or long-term health.
- All correspondence with a subject of the report and the records of the department and the county agency shall not reference child abuse and shall acknowledge the religious basis for the child’s condition.
- The family shall be referred for general protective services, if appropriate.
- This subsection shall not apply if the failure to provide needed medical or surgical care causes the death of the child.
- This subsection shall not apply to any child-care service as defined in this chapter, excluding an adoptive parent.
(c) Use of force for supervision, control, and safety purposes
Subject to subsection (d), the use of reasonable force on or against a child by the child’s own parent or person responsible for the child’s welfare shall not be considered child abuse if any of the following conditions apply:
- The use of reasonable force constitutes incidental, minor or reasonable physical contact with the child or other actions that are designed to maintain order and control.
- The use of reasonable force is necessary:
- to quell a disturbance or remove the child from the scene of a disturbance that threatens physical injury to persons or damage to property;
- to prevent the child from self-inflicted physical harm;
- for self-defense or the defense of another individual; or
- to obtain possession of weapons or other dangerous objects or controlled substances or paraphernalia that are on the child or within the control of the child.
(d) Rights of parents
Nothing in this chapter shall be construed to restrict the generally recognized existing rights of parents to use reasonable force on or against their children for the purposes of supervision, control and discipline of their children. Such reasonable force shall not constitute child abuse.
(e) Participation in events that involve physical contact with child
An individual participating in a practice or competition in an interscholastic sport, physical education, a recreational activity or an extracurricular activity that involves physical contact with a child does not, in itself, constitute contact that is subject to the reporting requirements of this chapter.
(f) Child-on-child contact
- Harm or injury to a child that results from the act of another child shall not constitute child abuse unless the child who caused the harm or injury is a perpetrator.
- Notwithstanding paragraph (1), the following shall apply:
- Acts constituting any of the following crimes against a child shall be subject to the reporting requirements of this chapter:
- rape as defined in 18 Pa.C.S. § 3121;
- involuntary deviate sexual intercourse as defined in 18 Pa.C.S. § 3123;
- sexual assault as defined in 18 Pa.C.S. § 3124.1;
- aggravated indecent assault as defined in 18 Pa.C.S. § 3125;
- indecent assault as defined in 18 Pa.C.S. § 3126; and
- indecent exposure as defined in 18 Pa.C.S. § 3127.
- No child shall be deemed to be a perpetrator of child abuse based solely on physical or mental injuries caused to another child in the course of a dispute, fight or scuffle entered into by mutual consent.
- A law enforcement official who receives a report of suspected child abuse is not required to make a report to the department under section 6334(a) (relating to disposition of complaints received), if the person allegedly responsible for the child abuse is a non-perpetrator child.
(g) Defensive force
Reasonable force for self-defense or the defense of another individual, consistent with the provisions of 18 Pa.C.S. §§ 505 and 506, shall not be considered child abuse.
Exclusions refer to a finding of “substantiated” when the Department evaluates a report, not exclusions to the requirement to report. There are no exclusions to reporting. If a mandated reporter has reasonable cause to suspect child abuse then they are required to report.