Child abuse and neglect have huge consequences on our society. As more and more children grow up in abusive or neglectful situations, they encounter developmental issues that affect their ability to function normally. Mental health issues and physical debilitations often result.
Because child abuse and neglect in Massachusetts can impact a person’s entire life, people must intervene as soon as possible. By learning more about what constitutes child abuse or child neglect and learning how to recognize the signs of child abuse, you can notify the Massachusetts Department of Children & Families immediately, hopefully sparing a child from further harm.
Legal Definition of Child Abuse and Neglect in Massachusetts
According to the Code of Massachusetts Regulations, Title 110, § 2.00:
‘Abuse’ means the nonaccidental commission of any act by a caregiver upon a child under age 18 that 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 caregiver and a child under the care of that individual.
The section goes further to explain neglect:
‘Neglect’ means failure by a caregiver, either deliberately or through negligence or inability, to take those actions necessary to provide a child with minimally adequate food, clothing, shelter, medical care, supervision, emotional stability, and growth, or other essential care.
So, essentially, abuse and neglect are intentional behaviors that the child’s caretaker knows (or should know as a “reasonable person”) are likely to result in harm to the child. Note that the abuser or neglectful caretaker does not have to intend harm as the result; they just have to know that the actions are likely to result in harm.
For instance, if a babysitter locks a child in a cupboard for several hours with no light, food or water as a form of discipline, their goal could be to punish the child and change his or her behavior. But the likely outcome is that the child will feel significant emotional distress while suffering from a lack of needed food and water, possibly leading to permanent damage to their psychological or physical well-being. If the babysitter has disciplinary alternatives that are less likely to result in harm and that could have been just as effective if not more effective as locking them in a cupboard, then they made a conscious decision to be abusive and/or neglectful.
Warning Signs of Child Abuse and Neglect
Common warning signs of physical abuse include:
- Unusual bruises or injuries that cannot be explained — Although getting hurt is a part of childhood, injuries to areas like the face, neck, lower back and bottom are not commonly caused by rough play or accidents, especially if they appear consistently or in clusters
- Anxious behavior that is fearful, withdrawn or overactive
- Cigarette burns and other injuries not likely to come about during play
Common warning signs of sexual abuse include:
- Difficulty sitting or walking
- Rips or blood in underclothing
- Fear of physical contact
- Premature understanding of sex acts or inappropriate play that recalls sex acts
- Reports of the child receiving alcohol, drugs, or pornography from adults
Common signs of emotional abuse include:
- Mental disorders or extreme anti-social behavior
- Delayed emotional or intellectual maturity
- Problems sleeping, talking or relaxing
- An inability to engage in healthy play with other children
Common signs of neglect include:
- Medical and dental issues that go without intervention
- Sporadic school attendance
- Children who are chronically dirty or always wear the same clothing without washing
- Reports of child being unsupervised
- Self-destructive tendencies or feelings
- Poor nutrition
While these warning signs are common, recognize that every situation involving child abuse or neglect is different.
Some children may suffer from subtle physical or psychological damage, for example, and they may also have parents who try to be “loving and caring” but who nevertheless commit neglectful or abusive acts that any reasonably competent person would assume will lead to harm. A parent who allows their child to drink heavily underage so they can “learn their own lessons” is enabling their child to enter into a situation that is likely to cause harm, for instance, so although the parent is avoiding being confrontational, they are actually neglecting their child’s needs.
Also, note that the state of Massachusetts allows parents to use physical discipline upon their child as long as the force is “reasonable” and “related to the purpose of safeguarding or promoting the welfare of the child.” (See Comm v. Dorvil 472 Mass. 1 2015)
What to Do if You Suspect Child Abuse or Neglect
If you suspect that the well-being of a child may be in danger as a result of child abuse or neglect, you should file a report with the Massachusetts Department of Children & Families (DCF) immediately. Certain people like physicians, psychologists, school teachers, child care workers, clergy members and police officers are mandated reporters, meaning that it is a crime for them to not report their suspicions to the DCF.
The report can be filed anonymously by all non-mandated reporters. A social worker will respond to the report with a home visit in most instances, beginning the state’s investigation into the matter. In cases where the state fears immediate harm to the child, they may preemptively take temporary custody of the child before the investigation begins.
Children and their advocates often face tremendous difficulty when trying to seek justice for abuse and neglect. If you wish to represent a child who has been injured by neglect or abuse, you can contact the experienced Boston child injury attorneys at the Kiley Law Group to represent the case and use every resource at their disposal to bring about justice.
You can contact the Kiley Law Group today using the toll-free number or the brief contact form below.