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Definitions of Qualifying Abuse or Neglect

The NIS definitions classify maltreatment into a number of categories, and for each category they specify requirements as to who the perpetrator(s) must be in order for the child to be counted in the study estimates. The NIS provides estimates according to two standards: Under the Harm Standard, children must have experienced some harm or injury from maltreatment. The Harm Standard definitions specify, for each category of maltreatment, the severity of harm or injury needed for the child to be counted. Under the Endangerment Standard, children in any category of maltreatment are counted as long as they are regarded as endangered by the abuse or neglect.

Person(s) Responsible for Maltreatment: The NIS addresses abuse and neglect that ordinarily should come under the jurisdiction of CPS. For this reason, the person(s) responsible for the maltreatment must have been responsible for the child's care. If other persons are responsible for the maltreatment, then the child's caregiver must have knowingly "permitted" the maltreatment to occur. "Permitted" means that the caregiver was present or had good reason to know of the problem or danger but made no reasonable attempt to protect the child from the maltreatment.

Maltreatment Categories: The NIS counts children who were harmed or endangered by abuse or neglect. The study includes situations where a caregiver's behavior (either purposive acts or extreme inattention to the child's needs) caused (or clearly had a potential to cause) foreseeable and avoidable injury or impairment to the child or a worsening of an existing injury or impairment. Any of the following occurrences during the study period would meet this general definition:

  •   Physical assault (including excessive corporal punishment);
  •   Sexual abuse or exploitation such as forcible or consensual rape, incest, intercourse, sexual molestation with or without genital contact, promoting of prostitution, etc.;
  •   Close confinement such as tying or binding of arms or legs, locking in a closet, or similarly severe confinement;
  •   Any other pattern of assaultive, exploitative, or abusive treatment, such as threatened or attempted physical or sexual assault, threatened abandonment or suicide, habitual or extreme verbal abuse or other overtly hostile, rejecting, or punitive treatment;
  •   Abandonment or other refusal to maintain custody, such as desertion, expulsion from home, refusal to accept custody of a returned runaway, etc.;
  •   Permitting or encouraging chronic maladaptive behavior, such as truancy, delinquency, prostitution, serious drug/alcohol abuse, or the like. "Permitted" means that the child’s caregiver had reason to be aware of the existence and seriousness of the problem (such as by having been informed of previous incidents), but made no reasonable attempt to prevent further occurrences;
  •   Refusal to allow needed treatment for a professionally diagnosed physical, educational, emotional, or behavioral problem, or failure to follow the advice of a competent professional who recommended that the caregiver obtain or provide the child with such treatment, if the child’s primary caregiver was physically and financially able to do so;
  •   Failure to seek or unwarranted delay in seeking competent medical care for a serious injury, illness, or impairment, if the need for professional care should have been apparent to a responsible caregiver without special medical training;
  •   Consistent or extreme inattention to the child's physical or emotional needs, including needs for food, clothing, supervision, safety, affection, and reasonably hygienic living conditions, if the child's primary caregivers were physically and financially able to provide the needed care; or
  •   Failure to register or enroll the child in school, as required by state law.


Severity of Harm or Endangerment: As indicated above, the NIS is particularly concerned with situations where maltreatment acts or omissions caused or had the potential to cause (or worsen) harm or impairment to the child. Injury or harm may be easiest to identify when there are concrete physical or behavioral results from the abuse or neglect, such as burns; bruises; fractures; symptoms of emotional problems (including unusual withdrawal or aggressiveness, psychosomatic problems, etc.); an illness or physical impairment; delinquency; a behavior problem; and so on. These include

  •   Fatal—the abuse or neglect is suspected to have been the cause of the child's death;
  •   Serious Injury/Condition—injury or impairment serious enough to significantly impair the child's physical, mental, or emotional capacities, or reasonably assumed to require professional treatment to prevent long term impairment; or
  •   Moderate Injury/Condition—behavior problem or physical/mental/emotional condition with observable symptoms lasting at least 48 hours.
In addition to information about maltreatment that caused actual harm to a child, the NIS recognizes that some situations are so traumatic that it is very likely that they will have some long-term impact on the child, even if symptoms or harmful effects are not immediately obvious. For these situations, the NIS provides the category:
  •   Probable Impairment—maltreatment which is so extreme or inherently traumatic in nature that significant emotional injury or impairment may reasonably be assumed to have occurred, even though the child may show no obvious physical or behavioral signs of injury.
Situations that might be categorized here include cases where the child has not (yet) shown any obvious effects of severe sexual exploitation, close confinement, or complete abandonment or other refusal to maintain custody.

Also, the NIS welcomes any information about abuse or neglect that, in the participant’s professional judgment: (a) seriously endangered the child's physical, mental or emotional health or well-being, and (b) should be included in a comprehensive study of child maltreatment. For these situations, NIS provides the category:
  •   Endangered—child's health or safety was or is seriously endangered, but child does not appear to have been harmed.


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