General FAQs

Child abuse is repeated mistreatment or neglect of a child by parent(s) or other guardian resulting in injury or harm.

Under California Law, child abuse is a crime. Children need protection because they are vulnerable and often unable to speak for themselves. The California Child Abuse Reporting Law, along with other state laws, provides the legal basis for action to protect children and allow intervention by public agencies if a child is maltreated.

Physical: Shaking, beating, or burning; failure to provide necessities of life such as adequate food, clothing, shelter or medical care; a child being subjected to willful cruelty or unjustifiable punishment.

Emotional: Excessive yelling, belittling or name-calling. Exposure to ongoing domestic violence between parents or caregivers.

Sexual: Incest, rape and any other sexual act on a child.

Sexual Exploitation: Treatment of a child as a sexual object; Involvement in pornography or solicitation for sexual acts in exchange for benefits (i.e. money, clothing, other goods).

Neglect: Failure to provide necessities of life such as adequate food, clothing, shelter or medical/mental health care; unsanitary or hazardous living environment; failure to provide appropriate supervision.

Caretaker absence/incapacity: The inability or unwillingness of a parent or caregiver to provide ongoing care.

Discipline is when parents and caregivers find constructive ways to help children correct and improve their behavior. The purpose is to improve a child’s intellectual development and moral character with the ultimate goal of helping them develop self-confidence and a positive self-image.

Abuse is when parents or caregivers express their negative feelings in either a physically or emotionally harmful manner. While it may temporarily result in positively changing the child’s behavior, the improvement is often temporary and followed by the child acting out the hatred, revenge and hostility they have learned from their parents or caregivers. To avoid further abuse, children may lie, run away or exhibit other forms of avoiding responsibility. Abuse tends to damage the self-esteem of both parents and children.

Safe and effective discipline is a correction given out of love. When parents and caregivers explore ways to correct a child’s behavior, they need to ask themselves, is the discipline:

  • Related to the offense?
  • Administered calmly and not in a hateful or angry way?
  • Fair when considering the child and the offense?
  • Occasional and for a brief amount of time?
  • Free from physical, verbal, sexual and emotional abuse?

Examples of appropriate discipline could include a look of reproach, scolding the child or taking away a valued privilege.

Repeated Injuries: Bruises, welts or burns. Parents may seem unconcerned, deny that anything is wrong or give unlikely explanations for the injuries.

Neglected Appearance: Children often are badly nourished, inadequately clothed, are left alone or are wandering at all hours and it may seem as if nobody cares. (Sometimes, though, over-neatness is also a sign of abuse.)

Disruptive Behavior: Constantly repeated, very aggressive negative behavior can be a sign of abuse and signal a desperate need for attention and help.

Passive Withdrawn Behavior: When children are excessively shy and friendless, it may indicate that there are serious problems at home.

Families That Are Extremely Isolated: Parents who don’t share in school or community activities, resent friendly contact and may be distrustful of people could be afraid to seek help.

Use caution and good sense in identifying child abuse. All parents make errors in judgment, but when the errors become a pattern, or are close to becoming one, it is time for help.

Child abuse happens often. It is estimated that as many as a million cases of abuse and neglect happen each year. Its effects are severe:

  • Emotional Handicaps:
    An abused child may never be able to love and trust other people; may always have a poor self-image.
  • “Acting Out” Behavior:
    Often, abused children become teenagers/adults who act in criminal and other antisocial violent behavior.
  • Serious Injury or Death:
    Injuries inflicted in childhood may result in permanent crippling, deformity.

Parents who habitually abuse their children may very well end up killing them. Hundreds of such cases happen every year in the United States.

Relatively few adults who abuse children are “criminal” or mentally unbalanced. Most abusive parents and guardians are “normal,” but are acting in reaction to past or present problems or stresses they cannot cope with, such as:

  • Unmet Emotional Needs: Parents who can’t relate well to other adults may expect children to take care of parents, satisfy their need for love, protection, or self-esteem.
  • Frequent Crises: Financial, job, legal problems, major illness, etc., can cause a parent to “take it out” on a child.
  • Their Own Childhood Experiences: Many abusive adults were mistreated themselves as children and have a poor, self-image.
  • Drug or Alcohol Problems: Such problems limit parental ability to care properly for children.

Child abuse, in all its forms, has a lasting and negative effect on children, families and their community.

At its worst, the destructive impact of abuse haunts victims for life, and prevents the child from becoming a productive adult. Frequently, parents who were mistreated as children will mistreat their own children. The National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect reports that more than 2,000 children die each year due to abuse or neglect.

Reporting child abuse is a first step in stopping this devastating cycle.

People who hurt children usually need help to change their behavior.

If you suspect a child is being abused or know of a family that may need additional support or access to resources, please contact DCFS immediately:

  • Toll-free within California: (800) 540-4000
  • If calling from outside of California: (213) 639-4500
  • TDD [Hearing Impaired]: (800) 272-6699

The California Department of Social Services (CDSS) has established a grievance process to review complaints from foster caregivers, parents, legal guardians, and/or children regarding the placement or removal/replacement of a child from a foster home.

An aggrieved party can request a Grievance Review Hearing by submitting a Grievance Review Hearing Request Form to the Department of Children and Family Services Government Accountability and Risk Management Division Bureau Liaison.  Grievance Review Hearings will be granted or denied based on conditions outlined in the CDSS Grievance Procedure Regulations

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Child Protection Hotline

24 hours a day, 7 days a week

Toll Free within California

(800) 540-4000

Outside of California

(213) 639-4500

TDD - Hearing Imparied

(800) 272-6699