What is child abuse?

In the USA there are child protection laws to stop people hurting children. Learn about child abuse, child protection, and the rules parents must follow.

Young boy reading book at home

Child abuse means anything that harms children. If someone abuses their children, child protection laws in the USA say that the government must take the children away.

Child abuse includes hurting children and being cruel to them. It also means not taking good care of them. Child abuse includes sexual acts with children.

Here are some things that the law says are not allowed:

  • Do not leave children alone if they are younger than 12 years old
  • You must not hit, throw, or shake children
  • Do not touch or harm children’s genitals (sexual parts)
  • You must not put your child in danger

Here are some things the law says you must do:

  • Use seatbelts for all children and child car seats for young children
  • Send your children to school
  • Teach your child to cross the street safely
  • Show your children how to stay clean and healthy
  • Make your child wear a bicycle helmet (a law in some states)

Child services

There are government departments in charge of child protection. They may be called Child Protective Services or Family Services, or just Child Services.

If someone believes you are abusing a child, they may call Child Services and report you. Doctors and teachers must report parents if they suspect abuse.

What happens if I am reported for child abuse?

Child Services officers will start an investigation. If they do not think there is immediate danger, Child Services will tell you what changes you must make. You will have a social worker. The social worker will help you to make changes. You may receive:

  • Counseling
  • Parenting classes
  • Health-related services, such as treatment for substance abuse treatment (problems with drugs and alcohol)
  • Help for your children, such as tutoring, mentoring or counseling
  • Help with housing and other benefits

What if my child is taken away?

If Child Services thinks your child is in danger, they will take your child away. They will refer your case to a court of law.

Children taken from their parents go to a foster home. This is a temporary home with other family members or with strangers. You will need to show that you can be a better parent and make your home safe before your children can come home.

Are you a child who is being abused? Or does a child you know need help? Call 800-422-4453

The National Child Abuse Hotline is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Hotline counselors have translators who speak more than 200 languages to help children. The hotline counselors don’t know who you are, and you don’t have to tell them. But they will help you decide what to do. Call 1-800-422-4453 – then push 1 to talk to a hotline counselor.

The information on this page comes from the US government and other trusted  sources. It is intended for guidance and is updated as often as possible. USAHello does not give legal advice, nor are any of our materials intended to be taken as legal advice. If you are looking for a free or low-cost lawyer or legal help, we can help you find free and low-cost legal services.