Child Endangerment Laws

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Child endangerment encompasses violence against children, neglect of their basic needs, and acts and omissions that may ultimately lead to harm, even if no actual injuries occur. Although the specific laws that prohibit these types of abuse vary from state to state, all child endangerment laws include similar prohibitions and potential punishments. In all jurisdictions, violation of child endangerment laws can result in both criminal penalties and civil actions that can bar violators from having custody of their own children or from caring for minors in a professional capacity.

Physical Abuse

All U.S. states plus the federal government have established laws prohibiting parents and caregivers from inflicting physical punishments that results in injury to the child. These laws frequently include prohibitions on all corporal punishment that results in bruises, welts, or injuries to a child's head or face. Although open-hand spankings are generally allowed under the law, physical assaults with a fist, belt, stick, as well as kicking, burning, biting, and shaking are all classified as child abuse.

Verbal and Emotional Abuse

Under most states' child welfare laws, psychological abuse is classified as child endangerment. This includes deliberate humiliation, verbal threats to inflict death or serious injury on the child, and withholding affection. Generally, any verbal or emotional abuse that is both egregious and ongoing is prohibited under the law.

Sexual Abuse

Although the age of sexual consent varies by state, all jurisdictions have laws in place that bar sexual contact with children. Sexual abuse laws include prohibitions on adult and child sexual contact, statutory rape, and child-on-child abuse. Most jurisdictions also have laws in place that bar parents and guardians from leaving a child in the care of a known sex offender regardless of whether the child sustains abuse during that interaction.


Child neglect is covered in a number of child endangerment laws. They include legislation barring children from being left unsupervised and requirements that families provide a child with adequate food, shelter, food, and weather-appropriate clothing. Neglect laws also require parents and guardians to seek appropriate medical and psychological care and educational services for their minor children.

Drugs and Alcohol

All U.S. states have laws that prohibit adults from giving a minor alcohol or drugs or allowing a child to consume intoxicating substances. Additionally, it considered child endangerment in most U.S. jurisdictions to leave a child in the care of a person who is visibly intoxicated. Child endangerment laws also bar parents and caregivers from using, selling, or possessing illegal drugs in the presence of a minor.



About the Author

Anna Green has been published in the "Journal of Counselor Education and Supervision" and has been featured regularly in "Counseling News and Notes," Keys Weekly newspapers, "Travel Host Magazine" and "Travel South." After earning degrees in political science and English, she attended law school, then earned her master's of science in mental health counseling. She is the founder of a nonprofit mental health group and personal coaching service.

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