District of Columbia Definitions of Child Abuse and Neglect

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Physical Abuse: Citation: Ann. Code § 16-2301
'Abused,' when used in reference to a child, means:
  • Infliction of physical or mental injury
  • Sexual abuse or exploitation
  • Negligent treatment or maltreatment

Neglect; Citation: Ann. Code § 16-2301
'Neglected child' means a child:

  • Whose parent, guardian, or custodian has failed to make reasonable efforts to prevent the infliction of abuse upon the child
  • Who is without proper parental care or control, subsistence, education, or other care or control necessary for his or her physical, mental, or emotional health
  • Whose parent, guardian, or other custodian is unable to discharge his or her responsibilities to and for the child because of incarceration, hospitalization, or other physical or mental incapacity
  • Whose parent, guardian, or custodian refuses or is unable to assume responsibility for the child's care, control, or subsistence and the person or institution providing for the child states an intention to discontinue such care
  • Who is in imminent danger of being abused and another child living in the same household has been abused
  • Who has received negligent treatment or maltreatment
  • Who has resided in a hospital located in the District of Columbia for at least 10 calendar days following the its birth, despite a medical determination that the child is ready for discharge from the hospital, and the parent has not taken any action or made any effort to maintain a parental, guardianship, or custodial relationship or contact with the child
  • Who is born addicted or dependent on a controlled substance or has a significant presence of a controlled substance in his or her system at birth
  • In whose body there is a controlled substance as a direct and foreseeable consequence of the acts or omissions of the child's parent
  • Who is regularly exposed to illegal drug-related activity in the home

'Negligent treatment' or 'maltreatment' means failure to provide adequate food, clothing, shelter, or medical care that includes medical neglect, and the deprivation is not due to the lack of financial means of his or her parent, guardian, or other custodian.

Sexual Abuse/Exploitation: Citation: Ann. Code § 16-2301
'Sexual abuse' means:

  • Engaging in, or attempting to engage in, a sexual act or sexual contact with a child
  • Causing or attempting to cause a child to engage in sexually explicit conduct
  • Exposing the child to sexually explicit conduct

'Sexual exploitation' occurs when a parent, guardian, or other custodian allows a child to engage in prostitution, or engages a child or allows a child to engage in obscene or pornographic photography, filming, or other forms of illustrating or promoting sexual conduct.

Emotional Abuse: Citation: Ann. Code § 16-2301
'Mental injury' means harm to a child's psychological or intellectual functioning that may be exhibited by severe anxiety, depression, withdrawal, outwardly aggressive behavior, or a combination of those behaviors, and that may be demonstrated by a change in behavior, emotional response, or cognition.

Abandonment; Citation: Ann. Code § 16-2301
The term 'neglected child' includes a child who has been abandoned by his or her parent, guardian, or custodian.

Standards for Reporting: Citation: Ann. Code § 4-1321.02
A report is required when a person knows or has reasonable cause to suspect that a child has been or is in immediate danger of being a mentally or physically abused or neglected child.

Persons Responsible for the Child: Citation: Ann. Code § 16-2301
Responsible persons include a parent, guardian, or custodian.

Exceptions; Citation: Ann. Code § 16-2301
It is not neglect when the child's deprivation of parental care and control is due to a lack of financial means.

No child who in good faith is under treatment solely by spiritual means through prayer, in accordance with the practices of a recognized church or religious denomination by a duly accredited practitioner, shall for that reason alone be considered neglected.

The term 'abused' does not include parental discipline as long as the discipline is reasonable in manner and moderate in degree, and otherwise does not constitute cruelty. The term discipline does not include:

  • Burning, biting, or cutting a child
  • Striking a child with a closed fist
  • Inflicting injury to a child by shaking, kicking, or throwing the child
  • Nonaccidental injury to a child younger than 18 months
  • Interfering with a child's breathing
  • Threatening a child with a dangerous weapon or using such a weapon on a child