Tennessee Definitions of Child Abuse and Neglect

Physical Abuse - Citation: Ann. Code § 37-1-102
'Abuse' exists when a person under age 18 is suffering from, has sustained, or may be in immediate danger of suffering from or sustaining a wound, injury, disability, or physical or mental condition caused by brutality, neglect, or other actions or inactions of a parent, relative, guardian, or caregiver.

'Severe child abuse' means:

  • The knowing exposure of a child to, or the knowing failure to protect a child from, abuse or neglect that is likely to cause great bodily harm or death, and the knowing use of force on a child that is likely to cause great bodily harm
  • Specific brutality, abuse, or neglect toward a child that in the opinion of qualified experts has caused or will reasonably be expected to produce severe psychosis, severe neurotic disorder, severe depression, severe developmental delay or retardation, or severe impairment of the child's ability to function adequately in the child's environment, and the knowing failure to protect a child from such conduct
  • The knowing failure to protect the child from the commission of any such act toward the child
  • Knowingly allowing a child to be present within a structure where the act of creating methamphetamine is occurring

Neglect - Citation: Ann. Code § 37-1-102
'Dependent and neglected child' means a child:

  • Who is without a parent, guardian, or legal custodian
  • Whose parent, by reason of cruelty, mental incapacity, immorality, or depravity is unfit to care properly for the child
  • Who is under unlawful or improper care, supervision, custody, or restraint by any person, corporation, agency, association, institution, society, or other organization or who is unlawfully kept out of school
  • Whose parent or guardian neglects or refuses to provide necessary medical, surgical, institutional, or hospital care
  • Who, because of lack of proper supervision, is found in a place the existence of which is in violation of law
  • Who is in a condition of such want or suffering, or is under such improper guardianship or control, as to injure or endanger his or her morals or health
  • Who is suffering from abuse or neglect
  • Who has been in the care and control of one or more agencies or persons not related by blood or marriage for a continuous period of 6 months or longer in the absence of a power of attorney or court order, and that person or agency has not initiated judicial proceedings seeking either legal custody or adoption of the child
  • Who is or has been allowed, encouraged, or permitted to engage in prostitution or obscene or pornographic photographing, filming, posing, or similar activity, and whose parent or guardian neglects or refuses to protect the child from further such activity
  • Who willfully has been left in the sole financial and physical care of a related caregiver for not less than 18 consecutive months by the child's parent(s) or legal custodian, and the child will suffer substantial harm if removed from the continuous care of such relative

Sexual Abuse/Exploitation - Citation: Ann. Code § 37-1-602
'Child sexual abuse' means the commission of any act involving the unlawful sexual abuse, molestation, fondling, or carnal knowledge of a child under age 13 that, on or after November 1, 1989, constituted the criminal offense of:

  • Aggravated rape, sexual battery, or sexual exploitation of a minor
  • Criminal attempt for any of the offenses listed above
  • Especially aggravated sexual exploitation of a minor
  • Incest
  • Rape, sexual battery, or sexual exploitation of a minor

The term 'child sexual abuse' also means one or more of the following acts:

  • Any penetration, however slight, of the vagina or anal opening of one person by the penis of another person, whether or not there is the emission of semen
  • Any contact between the genitals or anal opening of one person and the mouth or tongue of another person
  • Any intrusion by one person into the genitals or anal opening of another person, including the use of any object for this purpose
  • Intentional touching of the genitals or intimate parts, including the breasts, genital area, groin, inner thighs, and buttocks, or the clothing covering them, of either the child or the perpetrator
  • Intentional exposure of the perpetrator's genitals in the presence of a child, or any other sexual act intentionally perpetrated in the presence of a child, if such exposure or sexual act is for the purpose of sexual arousal or gratification, aggression, degradation, or other similar purpose
  • Sexual exploitation of a child, which includes allowing, encouraging, or forcing a child to solicit for or engage in prostitution or engage in sexual exploitation

Emotional Abuse - Citation: Ann. Code § 37-1-602
'Mental injury' means an injury to the intellectual or psychological capacity of a child as evidenced by a discernible and substantial impairment in the child's ability to function within the child's normal range of performance and behavior, with due regard to the child's culture.

This issue is not addressed in the statutes reviewed.

Standards for Reporting - Citation: Ann. Code §§ 37-1-493; 37-1-605
A report is required when a person knows or has reasonable cause to suspect that a child has been abused, neglected, or sexually abused.

Persons Responsible for the Child - Citation: Ann. Code §§ 37-1-102; 37-1-602
Responsible persons include:

  • The child's parent or guardian
  • A person with whom the child lives
  • Any 'other person responsible for a child's care or welfare' that includes, but is not limited to:
    • A legal custodian or foster parent
    • An employee of a public or private child care agency or public or private school
    • Any other person legally responsible for the child's welfare in a residential setting

Exceptions - Citation: Ann. Code § 37-1-602
Child sexual abuse does not include acts intended for a valid medical purpose or acts that may reasonably be construed to be normal caregiver responsibilities or interactions with or affection for a child.