Assault laws in the United States and elsewhere generally recognize certain cases as being more ethically egregious and requiring close oversight than others. The laws governing responses to child abuse are notable in this respect for the heightened concern they show for the task of guarding against such offenses.
From State to State, the specific response to cases of child abuse can be found in the relevant statutes. In addition, general oversight for the legal system in place against child assault in the United States can be found in the Federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA). Under this law, the most evident form of child abuse, that of a child assault accomplished through physical means, is considered along with more insidious crimes, such as neglect or emotional abuse.
The basic standard for acts constituting "child abuse and neglect" under CAPTA's provisions can be considered to include "any recent act or failure to act on the part of a parent or a caretaker, which results in death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse, or exploitation, or an act of failure to act which presents an imminent risk of serious harm."
State laws on the prevention of child assault cases commonly include provisions for enforcing the responsibility held by various kinds of individuals for reporting their discovery or suspicion that child abuse is occurring. Commonly, such professions as the providing of educational, law enforcement, physical and mental health, professional child supervision, and social work services carry obligations to convey news of any child assault to the relevant officials.
Other positions not guaranteed but likely to incur responsibilities for reporting child assault are the legal and religious professions, employees of day or summer camps, and foster parenthood. In eighteen American states, legal liability will be incurred by the omission of any citizen to report a child assault occurring.
Most American State statutes allow room in their definition of child abuse for the practicing of child assault through emotional means, as may be directed by a parent or other authority figure. Thirty-eight American states and several special American territories also include actions which do not constitute assaults upon a child but do create conditions in which a child is in significant risk of suffering harm.
Abandoning a child is also placed under the purview of child protection laws in seventeen states as well as the District of Columbia, while eighteen states view abandonment as being separate from the offense, typically considered alongside abuse, of neglect of children. Ill-effects suffered by children under their parents' care due to the parents' lack of funds are specified by twelve states to differ from child neglect.
Based on the severity of the child abuse taking place, the penalties potentially incurred by a defendant who is found guilty of an offense can vary. Less severe cases may result in the defendant being ordered to undergo counseling services. Any degree of severity, however, due to the special protections granted to minors can make imprisonment a likely result