What is Child Abuse & Neglect?

Child abuse is defined in Maryland as the physical or mental injury of a child by a parent, caregiver or family member; or sexual abuse whether or not physical injuries are sustained.

The Forms of Child Abuse & Neglect

Physical abuse includes hitting, spanking, pinching, biting, shaking, beating, burning or punching a child.

Sexual abuse includes rape, touching/fondling or involving a child in pornography.

Child neglect is the failure to give proper care and attention to a child, placing the child’s health or welfare in jeopardy. It is also failure to provide for a child’s basic physical, emotional or educational needs.

Emotional abuse can involve criticizing, insulting, rejecting or withholding love from a child.


Reporting Abuse

Maryland law requires all persons that suspect a child has been or is being mistreated to call their local department of social services or the police. Health care practitioners, police officers, teachers, and human service workers are required to make a report of suspected abuse or may be subjected to professional sanctions.

To make a report, find your local department of child protective services here or call your local police station.

After child protective services completes their investigation, one of three conclusions are reached. They are:

  • Indicated means a finding that there is credible evidence, which has not been satisfactorily refuted, that physical abuse, neglect, or sexual abuse did occur.
  • Unsubstantiated means a finding that there is an insufficient amount of evidence to support a finding of indicated or ruled out.
  • Ruled Out means a finding that abuse, neglect, or sexual abuse did not occur.

If the citizen disagrees with the finding they can appeal the ruling.


Recognizing Abuse

Many people are afraid of reporting child abuse. They think, "I don't want the person I reported to know," or, "I'm afraid it will come back to haunt me," or, "it's not my business."

If you ask people if they should help after witnessing a nearby car accident, most will say yes. But, in a case of suspected child abuse, the thinking may be different. Why? Because of prevalent attitudes that someone else's children are "their responsibility."

Without aware adults, some children might never receive help. Be an advocate for children by knowing the signs of abuse and reporting child abuse. Remember, you are reporting suspicion of child abuse. Even if you aren't sure, it's better to let authorities check it out. You might save a child's life!

When you have concerns for a child's well-being, indicators may help guide you in your thought process. Many of these "symptoms" or "signs" could be caused by things other than abuse or neglect. Generally, these indicators do indicate that a child's safety may be at risk and, at the very least, the situation should be assessed by a professional who is able to determine the causes of these symptoms and offer the help and assistance necessary to reduce the risk to a child. Click here for the signs and symptoms of abuse


Preventing Abuse

Parents today have a lot on their plates. Juggling the demands of work, home, and other responsibilities leaves many parents feeling like they do not have nearly enough time with their children. But even small acts of kindness, protection, and caring—a hug, a smile, or loving words—make a big difference to children. Research consistently shows that babies who receive affection and nurturing from their parents have the best chance of developing into children, teens, and adults who are happy, healthy, and competent. Research also shows that a relationship with a consistent, stable, and caring adult in the early years is associated in later life with better academic grades, healthier behaviors, more positive peer interactions, and an increased ability to cope with stress.

Know the five protective factors for families.
Here are some things you can do to prevent child abuse in your home and community.