Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Child Abuse in Criminal Law


Steve Thompson, Yahoo! Contributor Network

Child abuse is a problem which affects every city, county and state in the U.S., and Child Protective Services (CPS) have offices all over the country which accept more than 2 million reports of suspected child abuse each year. Out of those reports, nearly 900,000 children are found to be victims of child abuse each year.

Child abuse can be mental, emotional or physical in nature, and is not always immediately recognizable. Thousands of child abuse instances go unreported each year because very few people are trained in recognizing the subtle signs of child abuse. It is estimated that nearly 60% of child abuse cases involve charges of neglect, which is a consistently increasing problem in families below the poverty line in America.

U.S. courts do not have much sympathy for child abusers, and the penalties can be significant. Parents, especially, who subject their children to child abuse on a daily basis face prison time, fines and the loss of their children. Foster homes and adoption agencies are full of children who have been removed from their homes as a result of the discovery of child abuse.

Professionals - such as teachers, counselors and day care owners - who are in daily contact with many different children are encouraged to watch closely for signs of child abuse. Children who have new bruises and cuts every day invoke an immediate red flag, but children who act out or who seem depressed should also be watched carefully.

Another problem with child abuse is that it is often difficult for either CPS or the courts to draw the fine line between discipline and abuse. At one time, it was expected for parents to spank their children, often with paddles or even sticks. Now, even a light tap on the bottom can send neighbors and family members screaming to CPS. And unfortunately, many cases that are investigated by CPS do not warrant further action even if child abuse is occurring in the home.

Anyone who is concerned about a child's welfare is encouraged to call the police or CPS and to file a formal report about the abuse. There are anonymous tip hotlines in most major U.S. cities so that crimes of child abuse can be reported. Once child abuse is suspected, CPS will launch a formal investigation into the child's welfare. Parents will be questioned, the home might be searched and teachers and other adults will be questioned at length.

In some states, child abuse is quantified by degrees, just as murder and theft are also categorized by degrees. First degree child abuse involves the loss of life, which will usually be combined with a murder charge. For example, a parent who does not feed his or her children might be charged with first degree child abuse if the child dies from malnutrition. This problem is also prevalent in cases where mothers have what psychologists call Munchausen's syndrome by proxy, which is a psychological disease in which mothers inflict physical injuries on their children for the purpose of gaining sympathetic attention. Approximately 30% of children whose mothers have Munchausen's syndrome eventually die.

Child abuse should be reported immediately if discovered and charges should be pressed against the abuser. Parents who are concerned about their child's safety at school should also take the issue to CPS.

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