Child Protective Laws


Both the U.S. federal government and individual states have child protective laws in place designed to protect minors from physical and emotional harm. These laws include prohibitions against physical, sexual, emotional, educational abuse and neglect. Persons who violate child protective laws may face criminal penalties including jail time if convicted.

Child Neglect

  • Child protective laws prohibit neglect and require that children receive adequate supervision, nutrition, shelter and clothing. Caregivers and parents are required to provide appropriate medical care for children in their custody. Laws that prohibit neglect require guardians and parents to obtain psychiatric treatment and special education services as are necessary for the child's day-to-day well-being.

Physical Abuse

  • Physical abuse is generally defined under child protective laws as any deliberate physical contact that causes the child injuries, including bruises, lacerations, welts, burns, broken bones and internal wounds. Child protective laws bar kicking, shaking, biting, burning or corporal punishment with objects such as belts, sticks and switches.

Psychological Maltreatment

  • Psychological abuse, even when it doesn't result in immediate harm to the child, is barred under the child welfare laws. Psychological abuse is defined broadly, and encompasses threats against the safety of a child, his or her family members, and even pets. It may also include taunting, using humiliation as a punishment, or refusing to provide a child with basic, age-appropriate affection.

Substance Abuse

  • Child protective laws prohibit children from consuming intoxicating substances. They also bar caregivers from abusing substances in a child's presence. Many of these laws include provisions that bar a child's caregiver from selling, possessing, manufacturing, or trafficking in illicit substances in the presence of the child or in the child's place of residence.

Child Sexual Abuse

  • To prevent sexual abuse, child protection regulations frequently prohibit guardians from knowingly placing a minor child in the care of a registered sex offender. This includes sex offenders who do not have a history of sex crimes against children. Child protective laws prohibit all persons, both adult and juvenile, from having sexual contact with a child who is below the age of consent as defined by each state. The laws also restrict any person from creating, possessing, or transmitting sexually explicit images of minors.


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