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FAQ: Child Abuse

Adapted from the Support Center for Child Advocates FAQ

Q: What is child abuse?

A: Child abuse, according to the Child Protective Service Law (CPSL) includes any recent act or failure to act by a perpetrator to a child under 18 years of age that causes non-accidental serious physical injury, or non-accidental serious mental injury, sexual abuse or sexual exploitation, and serious neglect. “Recent” is defined as an abusive act within two years from the date ChildLine is called. Sexual abuse has no time limit.

Child abuse also includes any recent act, failure to act, or series of acts or failures to act by a perpetrator that creates an imminent risk of serious physical injury to or sexual abuse or exploitation of a child under 18 years of age.

Q: what is abuse?

Child abuse happens when someone hurts a child badly or doesn’t give them the things they need to grow up healthy, like food or a safe home. This could mean that someone hit a child with his or her hands or with an object, like a belt or an extension cord. It could also mean that someone touches a child in their private part or makes a child touch their private parts. A private part is usually anywhere that is covered by your bathing suit.

Signs of abuse:

Physical abuse

  • Visible marks of maltreatment, such as cuts, bruises, welts, broken bones or well-defined burns.


  • Frequent absenteeism or lateness, clothing that is dirty or inappropriate for the weather, body odor, unwashed appearance, hoarding food, eating too quickly, stealing food, lack of supervision, failure to thrive.

Sexual abuse

  • Sexual knowledge beyond the child’s age, fear of a particular person or place, sexual acting out behavior (can include indiscriminate sexual relationships), disrobing in front of others or a refusal to be undressed in front of others, changes in eating habits (eating too much, refusing to eat, frequent gagging) or hygiene habits, withdrawal/depression.

Emotional abuse

  • Verbal abuse, berating a child, name-calling or terrorizing a child.

Q: Who can be a perpetrator?

A: A perpetrator of child abuse can be a child’s parent, the person responsible for the welfare of a child such as a babysitter or day care staff person, and individual residing in the same home as the child who is at least 14 years of age, or a paramour of the child’s parent regardless of whether or not they reside in the home.

Q: How do I report it?

A: To report abuse 24 hours a day, please call: ChildLine at 1-800-932-0313

ChildLine is the 24-hour toll free telephone reporting system operated by the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare to receive reports of suspected child abuse. ChildLine forwards the report of suspected child abuse to the local county children and youth agency, which investigates the report to determine if the allegations can be substantiated as child abuse/neglect and also arranges for or provides the services that are needed to prevent the further maltreatment of the child and to preserve the family unity.

Once a call has been made, the county children and youth agency must begin an investigation within 24 hours. A thorough inquiry is conducted to determine if the child was abused and what services are appropriate for the child and family.

Q: Who are mandated reporters?

A: Individuals who, in the course of their employment, occupation or practice of a profession, come into contact with children and have reasonable cause to suspect that a child under the care, supervision, guidance, or training of that person or of an agency, institution, organization or other entity with which that person is affiliated is a victim of child abuse.

Q: What can I do if a child is not being cared for properly, but may not be an abused child?

A: Reports about the safety of children including (but not limited to) inadequate housing, clothing and supervision should be referred to the county children and youth agency (i.e., DHS) for assessment as general protective service cases.

Q: What should I do when I suspect a child has been abused?

A: The law says that mandated reporters must immediately make a report, or notify the person in charge. The person in charge or the designee must make a report of suspected child abuse immediately to ChildLine at 1-800-932-0313.

Q: What else must a mandated reporter do after calling ChildLine?

A: Mandated reporters must also complete a report of suspected child abuse (CY 47). This form can be obtained from the children and youth agency in your county and must be submitted within 48 hours to the county agency. However, it is acceptable to submit the information in letter form.

Q: Do I have to know for sure that a child was abused?

A: NO. Your responsibility is to make the report when you suspect a child is abused. The caseworker of the county children and youth agency will investigate and determine whether the child was abused.

Q: Must I report?

A: Yes. Mandated reporters, by law must report suspected abuse when they have reason to suspect on the basis of medical, professional or other training and experience, that the child has been abused.

Q: What could happen to me if I don’t report?

A: A mandated reporter who is convicted of willfully failing to report or refer suspected child abuse is guilty of a misdemeanor of the third degree. A second or subsequent offense is a misdemeanor of the second degree. The maximum penalty for a misdemeanor of the third degree is $2,500 and/or one year in jail; for a misdemeanor of the second degree it is a $5,000 and/or two years in jail.

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