Definitions of Child Abuse and Neglect Florida

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Statute: 39.01


Willful or threatened act that harms or is likely to cause harm


Religious exemption

Corporal punishment


Categories of Maltreatment Defined in Statute

Physical abuse


Sexual abuse

Sexual exploitation

Emotional/mental injury


Categories of Maltreatment Not Defined in Statute


Fla. Stat. Ann. 39.01(West, WESTLAW through End of 2003 Reg. Sess.)

'Abandoned' means a situation in which the parent or legal custodian of a child, or in the absence of a parent or legal custodian, the caregiver responsible for the child's welfare, while being able, makes no provision for the child's support and makes no effort to communicate with the child, which situation is sufficient to evince a willful rejection of parental obligations. If the efforts of such parent or legal custodian, or caregiver primarily responsible for the child's welfare, to support and communicate with the child are, in the opinion of the court, only marginal efforts that do not evince a settled purpose to assume all parental duties, the court may declare the child to be abandoned.

'Abuse' means any willful act or threatened act that results in any physical, mental, or sexual injury or harm that causes or is likely to cause the childs physical, mental, or emotional health to be significantly impaired. Abuse of a child includes acts or omissions.

'Child who is found to be dependent' means a child who is found by the court:

To have been abandoned, abused, or neglected by the child's parent or parents, or legal custodians;

To have been surrendered to the Department or voluntarily placed with a licensed child-placing agency for the purpose of adoption;

To have been voluntarily placed with a licensed child-caring agency, a licensed child-placing agency, an adult relative, the Department, after which placement, a case plan has expired and the parent or parents, legal custodians or caregivers have failed to substantially comply with the requirements of the plan;

To have no parent or legal custodian capable of providing supervision and care; or

To be at substantial risk of imminent abuse, abandonment, or neglect by the parent(s) or legal custodians.

'Harm' to a child's health or welfare can occur when any person:

Inflicts or allows to be inflicted upon the child physical, mental or emotional injury. In determining whether harm has occurred, the following factors must be considered in evaluating any physical, mental, or emotional injury to the child: the age of the child; any prior history of injuries to the child; the location of the injury on the body of the child; the multiplicity of the injury; and the type of trauma inflicted.

Commits, or allows to be committed, sexual battery, or lewd or lascivious acts.

Allows, encourages, or forces the sexual exploitation of a child.

Exploits a child, or allows a child to be exploited.

Abandons the child.

Neglects the child.

Exposes a child to a controlled substance or alcohol.

Uses mechanical devices, unreasonable restraints, or extended periods of isolation to control a child.

Engages in violent behavior that demonstrates a wanton disregard for the presence of a child and could reasonably result in serious injury to the child.

Negligently fails to protect a child in his or her care from inflicted physical, mental, or sexual injury caused by the acts of another.

Has allowed a child's sibling to die as a result of abuse, abandonment, or neglect.

Makes the child unavailable for the purpose of impeding or avoiding a protective investigation unless the court determines that the parent, legal custodian, or caregiver was fleeing from a situation involving domestic violence.

'Mental injury' means an injury to the intellectual or psychological capacity of a child as evidenced by a discernible and substantial impairment in the ability to function within the normal range of performance and behavior.

'Neglect' occurs when a child is deprived of, or is allowed to be deprived of, necessary food, clothing, shelter, or medical treatment or a child is permitted to live in an environment when such deprivation or environment causes a child's physical, mental, or emotional health to be significantly impaired or to be in danger of being significantly impaired.

'Other person responsible for a child's welfare' includes the child's legal guardian, legal custodian, or foster parent; an employee of a private school, public or private child day care center, residential home, institution, facility, or agency; or any other person legally responsible for the child's welfare in a residential setting; and also includes an adult sitter or relative entrusted with a child's care.

'Physical injury' means death, permanent or temporary disfigurement, or impairment of any bodily part.

'Sexual abuse of a child' means one or more of the following acts:

Any penetration, however slight, of the vagina or anal opening of one person by the penis of another person, whether or not there is the emission of semen.

Any sexual contact between the genitals or anal opening of one person and the mouth or tongue of another person.

Any intrusion by one person into the genitals or anal opening of another person, including the use of any object for this purpose, except that this does not include any act intended for a valid medical purpose.

The intentional touching of the genitals or intimate parts, including the breasts, genital area, groin, inner thighs, and buttocks, or the clothing covering them, of either the child or the perpetrator, except that this does not include any act which may be reasonably construed to be a normal caregiver responsibility, any interaction with, or affection for a child; or any act intended for a valid medical purpose.

The intentional masturbation of the perpetrator's genitals in the presence of a child.

The intentional exposure of the perpetrator's genitals in the presence of a child, or any other sexual act intentionally perpetrated in the presence of a child, if such exposure or sexual act is for the purpose of sexual arousal or gratification, aggression, degradation, or other similar purpose.

The sexual exploitation of a child, which includes allowing, encouraging, or forcing a child to solicit for or engage in prostitution; or engage in a sexual performance.

'Victim' means any child who has sustained or is threatened with physical, mental, or emotional injury identified in a report involving child abuse, neglect, or abandonment, or child-on-child sexual abuse.


Fla. Stat. Ann. 39.01(2), (30)(f), (45) (West, WESTLAW through End of 2003 Reg. Sess.)

Corporal discipline of a child by a parent, legal custodian, or caregiver for disciplinary purposes does not in itself constitute abuse when it does not result in harm to the child.

A parent or legal custodian who, by reason of legitimate practice of religious beliefs, does not provide specified medical treatment for a child may not be considered abusive or neglectful for that reason alone, but such exception does not:

Eliminate the requirement that such a case be reported to the department;

Prevent the department from investigating such a case; or

Preclude a court from ordering, when the health of the child requires it, the provision of medical services by a physician or treatment by a duly accredited practitioner who relies solely on spiritual means for healing in accordance with the tenets and practices of a well-recognized church or religious organization.

The foregoing circumstances of deprivation or environment shall not be considered neglect if caused primarily by financial inability unless actual services for relief have been offered to and rejected by such person.
Visitor Comments (4)
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PGL - 4 months ago
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I know a child 14yrs old that is not happy in her home and has tried cutting herself and is pinching herself so bad that she ripping the skin off. When she told the person she lives with that she is depressed and sudical and that she just wants to go back to live with her mother and the person that cares for her tells her that is the devil talking to you and you need to push those thoughts out is that a form of abuse. #1
Ashley - 9 months ago
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I have neighbors that lock there kids outside In the heat during the day the little kids are banging on the door to get in and there not able to, I have also seen the children per in the yard and drink out if the water hose after being outside for hrs still banging in door so often screaming and crying, I'm not sure what to do, I have reported this to my landlord but do I need to call Dcf on an act like this? They do finally go inside hrs later but what bothers me is the children screaming mommy let me in and no one coming to the door plus there using bathroom outside! The ages are 3 and up! This is very bothering and it has happened several times like yesterday and the kids told my children there mom won't let hen in and they asked my kids for a drink and a snack and this is what really made me concern What do I do? Parents won't talk to me they just yell and act like I'm out to get them? I'm just very concerned! It has been very hot outside! #2
Leira - 9 months ago
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Ashley, you have yo call DCF, that is child neglect and mental and emotional abuse! Please call asap! #3
wayne - 9 months ago
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This page is out of date and inaccurate. Gov. Scott signed in to law the Protection of Vulnerable Persons Act in 2012 and everything has changed, for the better I must say. #4
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