What is child abuse?

Published 9:09 pm Sunday, April 4, 2021

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NCDHHS outlines categories, laws for adults to report

POLK COUNTY—April is Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention month and the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services has descriptions of the various categories of child abuse and neglect. 

The NCDHHS also outlines childcare staff reporting requirements and the law that requires every adult in North Carolina to report suspected abuse and neglect. 

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The Polk County Child Protection and Fatality Prevention Team is displaying pole banners in Tryon and Columbus and a large banner in Saluda as well as road/yard signs and distributing 1,000 brochures during the month of April to promote awareness for the continued problem and its long lasting affects on children, according to Cathy Brooks with the child protection and fatality prevention team. 

Following is information about child abuse and the laws from the NCDHHS Division of Child Development and Early Education: 

Know Your Role!


For the past year, COVID-19 has proved challenging for childcare providers, families, and children. At times during the pandemic, families have been home together in isolation—while many have struggled financially—creating a stressful environment. Because children have been isolated at home, there is concern many incidents are going unreported; child maltreatment thrives in silence.


As childcare providers, you are a vital part in the prevention and intervention of child maltreatment! You may see potential indicators of maltreatment in the children under your care—some children may even be more likely to disclose maltreatment to a child care provider than to a family member—so it is important that all providers are aware of maltreatment indicators and to report any suspicions of maltreatment. Prevent Child Abuse of North Carolina (PCANC) provides free website training that all providers are required to take per Child Care Rules 10A NCAC 09 .1102(g) and .1703(a)(5). 


What is Child Maltreatment?


Child maltreatment includes physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, and neglect.


  • Physical Abuse – generally defined as “any non-accidental physical injury to the child.” Indicators include unexplained bruises, burns, or injuries in various stages of healing; fear of parent or caregiver; shy, passive or withdrawn; apathy; or unusual wariness of physical contact.
  • Sexual Abuse – any sexual behavior imposed on a juvenile involving touching or non-touching, including pornography, suggestive behaviors, or suggestive comments. Indicators include exhibiting sexual behavior or knowledge that is not appropriate for the child’s age, behavioral changes, and physical symptoms in the genital area.
  • Emotional Abuse – expressing attitudes or behaviors toward a child that create serious emotional or psychological damage. Indicators include anxiety, depression, withdrawal, or aggressive behavior towards self or others. 
  • Neglect – failure to provide food, clothing, shelter, medical care, or supervision, which results in threats the child’s health, safety and/or well-being. Indicators include poor hygiene, increased hunger, unattended medical needs, and injuries or incidents related to inadequate supervision.


Children may disclose to a child care provider because they trust them and feel safe with them. How we respond after a child’s disclosure has a big impact on the child, as well as any potential criminal case that may follow. It is critical to know what questions to ask and when to stop! When a child chooses to disclose potential maltreatment, it is important to gather only the minimum facts necessary to know what happened—and leave the rest up to investigating authorities. Do not attempt to interview the child. Remain calm, be supportive of the child, provide a safe environment, believe what the child is telling you, and do not make promises or assumptions.


It’s the Law!


North Carolina laws require all persons to report suspected child maltreatment to investigating authorities:


  • NCGS 7B-301(a): Any person or institution who has cause to suspect that any juvenile is abused, neglected, or dependent, as defined by N.C.G.S. §7B-101, or has died as the result of maltreatment, shall report the case of that juvenile to the director of the department of social services in the county where the juvenile resides or is found. You will find a link to the NC Local DSS Directory below.
  • NCGS 14-318.6(b): Any person 18 years of age or older who knows or should have reasonably known that a juvenile has been or is the victim of a violent offense, sexual offense, or misdemeanor child abuse under G.S. 14-318.2 shall immediately report the case of that juvenile to the appropriate local law enforcement agency in the county where juvenile resides or is found.
  • NCGS 110-105.4(a) Any person who has cause to suspect that a child in a child care facility has been maltreated, as defined by G.S. 110-105.3, or has died as the result of maltreatment occurring in a child care facility, shall report the case of that child to the Department. If you suspect a child has been maltreated in a child care facility, report the information to the Division of Child Development and Early Education at 919-814-6300 or 1-800-859-0829. 


Bottom line: not acting on suspicions a child is experiencing maltreatment could result in a child being exposed to additional harm or even death. In fact, knowingly or willfully failing to report or preventing someone else from making a report is a class 1 misdemeanor in North Carolina per NCGS 14-318.6(c). You do not need proof that maltreatment has occurred, and you do not need anyone’s permission to file a report; you only need reasonable cause to suspect maltreatment.


Child maltreatment can have long-term effects on a child’s physical, psychological, and behavioral health. Today’s children are future parents, teachers, lawyers, doctors, firemen, law enforcement officers, childcare providers, and other community leaders. It’s up to all of us to invest in their future by promoting their well-being physically, socially, and emotionally. You can be a hero in a child’s life!