Defining and Recognizing Child Abuse

Child abuse includes physical abuse, physical neglect, sexual abuse, and emotional abuse inflicted by a parent or other caretaker. New York law defines these types of abuses in the following ways:

Read our brochure Recognizing and Reporting Child Abuse and Neglect (pdf).

Physical abuse: Non-accidental physical injury of a child inflicted by a parent or caretaker that ranges from superficial bruises and welts to broken bones, burns, serious internal injuries and in some cases, death. Includes actions that create a substantial risk of physical injury to the child.

What you may see: If a child is physically abused you may see frequent and unexplained bruises, burns, cuts, injuries; the child may be overly afraid of the parent's reaction to misbehavior.

Physical neglect: Withholding, or failing to provide, adequate food, shelter, clothing, hygiene, medical care, education or supervision, such that the child’s physical, mental or emotional condition is impaired or at imminent risk of being impaired.

What you may see: A very young child routinely left alone at home. You may know that a severe illness or injury is not being medically treated. A neighbor child may frequently turn up at your door--inadequately dressed for the weather-- saying their parent told them to stay away. Physical neglect can be hard to judge; sometimes what you see is poor judgment, but not neglect. Sometimes what you see is the result of poverty and a family's struggle to make ends meet.

Sexual abuse: When a parent or caretaker commits a sexual offense against a child or allows a sexual offense to be committed, such as rape, sodomy, engaging a child in sexual activity, engaging a child in -- or promoting a child’s — sexual performance.

What you may see: Sexual behavior way beyond what is expected for the child's age; a young child might have sudden, unusual difficulty with toilet habits; there may be pain or itching, bruises or bleeding in the genital area. The child might tell you.

Emotional abuse: Parents’ or caretakers’ acts or omissions that cause or could cause serious conduct, cognitive, affective, or other mental disorder such as torture, close confinement or the constant use of verbally abusive language. Includes emotional neglect - withholding physical and emotional contact to the detriment of the child's normal emotional or even physical development.

What you may see: A parent who verbally terrorizes the child, who continually and severely criticizes the child, or who fails to express any affection or nurturing.

Resources for recognizing and reporting child abuse and neglect:

Resources for recognizing emotional abuse:

Resources for recognizing sexual abuse:

Additional information
In New York State, Social Services Law (SSL) and the Family Court Act (FCA) deal with child abuse and maltreatment in a familial context. Title Six of Article Six of the Social Services Law, specifically Sections 411-428, define child abuse and maltreatment. Article 10 of the Family Court Act, specifically section 1012 of the FCA, further defines child abuse, maltreatment and other key terms commonly used in investigations and reports.