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What to Know About Child Abuse and Neglect

The subject of abuse and neglect in children is not something people like to discuss. Unfortunately, though, it is all too prevalent in our society today. Because of this, it is important to know what constitutes abuse and neglect of children and what is currently being done to keep children away from dangerous situations. The more this matter is discussed openly, the more those being abused or neglected are likely to speak up and then get the help they need. And, the more the public knows about what child abuse and neglect looks like, the more aware they can be to help those children in need. Family law attorneys understand both the need to keep children safe in the community and the rights of the parents or caregivers.

What is child abuse?

Child abuse is any kind of abuse or neglect that occurs to a child under the age of 18. According to the Center for Disease Control, one in seven children have expereinced child abuse and/or neglect in the past year. Sadly, in 2019, 1,840 children died of child abuse in the United States.

Child abuse is not limited to the parent or caregiver, it also includes any other person in a custodial role in the child’s life including but not limited to - coaches, religious leaders or teachers. When the behavior of these adults leads to harm, potential harm or threat of harm to the child, that is considered child abuse.

Girl covering her ears with her hands

There are four common types of abuse to children: physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse and neglect.

Physical abuse is using any type of physical force to harm the child physically. This could mean hitting, pushing, burning or kicking. Any type of physical violence that is meant to harm the child. Sexual abuse is using force on the child to perfrom sexual acts such as fondling, penetration or viewing of sexual acts. Emotional abuse is adults belittling and damaging the child’s self-worth through name calling, threatening, or withholding love. Openly using or manufacturing drugs around children is also a form of child abuse.

What is neglect?

Neglect of a child is another form of child abuse. Neglect is the failure to meet the basic needs of the child. According to the Child Welfare Information Gateway, a service of the Children's Bureau Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, “Child neglect means harm or threatened harm to a child's health or welfare, by a parent, legal guardian, or any other person responsible for the child's health or welfare, that occurs through either of the following:

  • Negligent treatment, including the failure to provide adequate food, clothing, shelter, or medical care (not only doctor but dentist and vision as well), though financially able to do so, or by the failure to seek financial or other reasonable means to provide adequate food, clothing, shelter, or medical care

  • Placing a child at an unreasonable risk to the child's health or welfare by failure to intervene to eliminate that risk when the parent, legal guardian, or other person responsible for the child's health or welfare is able to do so and has, or should have, knowledge of the risk.”

Abuse in any form has negative consequences for the child. The physical and emotional toll this abuse has on the child lasts longer than the abuse itself leading to psychological issues including chronic stress and anxiety.

Wooden plank swing

What happens when abuse is suspected?

When child abuse or neglect is suspected the first step is to call Centralize Intake (CI) or your local police department. Mandatory reporters have been trained to know what signs to look for in child abuse and neglect and know to call right away.

Mandatory reporters for the State of Michigan include:


Licensed emergency medical care providers

Licensed master social workers

School counselors



Licensed bachelor’s social workers


Physician’s Assistants


Registers social service technicians

Law enforcement officers

Registers dental hygienists

Marriage and family therapists

Social service technicians

Members of the clergy

Medical examiners

Licensed professional counselors

Persons employed in a professional capacity in any office

Regulated child care providers

Social workers


School administrators

Anyone, however can report suspected child abuse or neglect - this includes children. In Michigan, call 1-855-444-3911 to be connected with CI at the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS). Reporters should give as detailed a report as possible. According to MDHHS, reports of suspected child abuse or neglect with either be:

  • Assigned for investigation;

  • Rejected; or

  • Transferred to another agency for investigation, such as law enforcement or the Bureau of Child and Adult Licensing.

Reports must meet the following three criteria to be assigned for investigation:

  • The alleged victim is under 18 years of age.

  • The alleged perpetrator is a parent, legal guardian or other person responsible for the child's health and welfare.

  • The allegations minimally meet the child abuse and neglect definitions in the Child Protection Law.

If the report is substantiated, MDHHS will work with the family to create a plan of action to help the parents or caregivers better care for the child or children.

Will parents go to Jail?

Child abuse and neglect is a serious matter and the each case is reviewed independently to best suit the needs of the child and parents or caregivers. Cases dealing with abuse or neglect are generally not criminal in nature, however it all depends on the severity of the case.

Once MDHHS is involved, the case worker and parents or caregivers work together to create a more healthy environment for the child. This could mean parenting classes or counseling for the adults, rehabilitation programs for drug or alcohol abuse or job assistance. The primary goal is to help the family have a safe environment for the child. Once a plan is in place, parents or caregivers will have several months, depending on the plan, to comply with regular monitoring by the caseworker. If plans are unmet and parents refuse or are continually unable to comply with the plan, case workers can push for termination of parental rights.

Shadow of a child holding an adults hand with a wall covered in colorful handprints

In extreme cases of abuse or neglect, the child or parents or caregivers can be removed from the home. In these circumstances the case would have to be preponderance of the evidence (evidence that shows a greater likelihood of occurring than not occurring) of child abuse or neglect and the case workers indicates that is high risk of abuse or that a court order is needed or required. Court orders, to ensure the safety of the child, can be petitioned by Child Protective Services (CPS) if it is determined that the child is at imminent risk of harm, the parent or caregiver is being uncooperative or the parent or caregiver is refusing to leave. If those circumstances occur CPS can file a petition with the court requesting a court order which can include: the family cooperates with in-home services, the perpetrator be removed from the home, the child be removed from the home. If the child is removed from the homes, CPS or foster care services are provided for the child.

Bottom Line

Unfortunately, child abuse and neglect continues to occur at an alarming rate. As a community it is important to look for signs of child abuse and neglect and report it as soon as possible. Children are not responsible for the harm that is inflicted on them.

For more information or to know your rights as a parent or caregiver, contact a family law attorney.

Click the link below to check out my short Q&A video on Neglect/Abuse of Children on YouTube!

Kimm Burger, Attorney

I want to hear your side of the story.

KB Law Office P.C.

Tel: 517-797-6021


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