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Ending Gender Based Violence: Child Abuse & Neglect

What is child abuse?

Child abuse is any intentional act or series of acts that cause harm or distress to a child. This can include physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, and neglect. Physical abuse involves the use of physical force that results in injury, pain, or impairment. Sexual abuse is any sexual activity with a child. Emotional abuse involves the use of words, actions, or inactions that cause harm to a child's emotional well-being. Neglect involves the failure to provide for a child's basic needs, such as food, shelter, medical care, and supervision.

What are the child labor laws in the US?

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) sets the federal minimum age for employment at 14 years old, with some exceptions. In non-agricultural work, 14- and 15-year-olds may work outside of school hours in certain jobs that are deemed non-hazardous such as office or retail work. However, they may not work more than 3 hours on a school day or 18 hours in a school week. They may work up to 8 hours on a non-school day or 40 hours in a non-school week. For 16- and 17-year-olds, there are fewer restrictions on working hours and job types. They may work in non-hazardous jobs for any number of hours and in any job that is not explicitly prohibited.

An employer can pay a minor less than the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, for a limited period of time. The FLSA allows: a minimum wage of at least $4.25 per hour if the minor is less than 20 years old in the first 90 consecutive calendar days of employment. Employers who violate these laws can face penalties and minors and their parents or guardians can report violations to the U.S. Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division.

What is child neglect and abandonment?

Child neglect is a form of child maltreatment that occurs when a caregiver fails to provide for a child's basic needs such as food, shelter, clothing, medical care, and supervision. Neglect can be intentional or unintentional and can be caused by various factors such as poverty, substance abuse, mental health issues, or lack of knowledge or skills.

Child abandonment occurs when a caregiver deserts a child and fails to provide any form of care or support. This can involve leaving a child in a dangerous or unsafe situation or failing to provide basic necessities. Children who experience neglect and abandonment may have difficulties forming attachments and relationships, may struggle with emotional regulation and may express behavioral difficulties. Child abuse, neglect, and abandonment can be grounds for intervention by child protective services and may result in legal action against the caregiver.

Is “spanking” child abuse?

The legality of spanking a child for discipline purposes in the US varies by state. In some states, spanking is legal and considered a form of reasonable discipline while in other states, it is illegal or restricted under certain circumstances. Currently, 66 countries have banned corporal punishment of children but the US has not yet done so on a federal level. However, several states have outlawed corporal punishment in schools, and some have restrictions on its use in other settings. Additionally, some states and jurisdictions define excessive or abusive corporal punishment as a form of child abuse and prohibit it under child abuse laws.

Illinois law prohibits the use of physical force as a means of discipline that causes bodily harm or pain which includes spanking that is severe enough to cause injury. While spanking is not specifically mentioned in the law, if the spanking causes bodily harm or pain, or is excessive enough to rise to the level of abuse then it may be considered illegal. Parents who use physical discipline, including spanking, should do so in a way that is reasonable and does not cause injury or harm to the child.

Spanking and other forms of physical punishment can have negative effects on a child's physical and emotional well-being and research has shown that non-physical forms of discipline such as positive reinforcement and setting clear boundaries can be just as effective in promoting positive behavior. Parents and caregivers are encouraged to use non-physical forms of discipline and to seek professional guidance if they are struggling to manage their child's behavior.

What are the Child Protective Services (In Illinois DCFS)?

Child protective services (CPS) is a government agency in the US that is responsible for investigating and intervening in cases of suspected child abuse or neglect. CPS is designed to protect the safety and well-being of children who may be at risk of harm from their parents or caregivers. When a report of suspected child abuse or neglect is received, CPS will conduct an investigation to determine if there is evidence of maltreatment. This may involve conducting interviews with the child, the alleged perpetrator, and other relevant parties, as well as gathering medical or other evidence.

If CPS determines that a child is at risk of harm, they may take a variety of steps to protect the child, including:

  • Removing the child from the home and placing them in foster care or with another relative or guardian.

  • Providing services or support to the family, such as counseling, parenting classes, or substance abuse treatment.

  • Initiating legal action to terminate parental rights or seek custody or guardianship of the child.

CPS agencies work closely with other organizations such as law enforcement, schools, and medical professionals to identify and respond to cases of child abuse or neglect.

Who is a “mandated reporter"?

Mandated reporters of child abuse are individuals who are required by law to report suspected child abuse or neglect to CPS or law enforcement. Mandated reporters typically include professionals who work closely with children such as:

Teachers and school personnel

Health care professionals, such as doctors, nurses, and social workers

Mental health professionals, such as psychologists and counselors

Child care providers, including day care providers and camp counselors

Law enforcement officers

Clergy members or other religious leaders

Social service workers or advocates

Foster parents or other caregivers

After completing the investigation, CPS will make a determination whether the allegations of abuse or neglect are substantiated or unfounded. If the allegations are substantiated, CPS will take appropriate action to protect the child and ensure their safety.

The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) is in charge of protecting the health, safety, and best interests of children. DCFS offers protective services in order to prevent any further harm to the child and to other children in the same environment or family. They stabilize the home environment and preserve family life whenever possible.

Important Terms to Know

"Temporary protective custody" means custody within a hospital or other medical facility such as a licensed foster home, group home, or other institution.

"An unfounded report" means that after an investigation, there was no credible evidence of abuse or neglect.

"An indicated report" means that it was determined that credible evidence of the alleged abuse or neglect exists.

"An undetermined report" means that it was not possible to initiate or complete an investigation on the basis of lack of information.

"Perpetrator" means a person who, as a result of investigation, has been determined to have caused child abuse or neglect.

Any person who knowingly transmits a false report to the Department commits the offense of disorderly conduct under subsection (a)(7) of Section 26-1 of the Criminal Code of 2012. A violation of this provision is a Class 4 felony.

In Illinois, anyone can report suspected child abuse or neglect by calling the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) Child Abuse Hotline at

1-800-25-ABUSE (1-800-252-2873).

This hotline is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.


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