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Child Abuse and Neglect

Students forming a peace sign symbolCalifornia state law defines child abuse as (1) physical injury inflicted on a child by another person, (2) sexual abuse, or (3) emotional abuse. Child neglect is defined as negligent treatment which threatens the child's health or welfare. A “child” is a person under the age of 18 years. San Diego Unified Administrative Regulation 5141.4 outlines the district procedures to be followed in cases of suspected child abuse or neglect.

What is Child Abuse and Neglect?

The different types of child abuse/neglect can be categorized as follows:

  • Physical abuse is bodily injury inflicted by other than accidental means on a child, including willful cruelty, unjustifiable punishment, or corporal punishment.
  • Sexual abuse is the victimization of a child by sexual activities, including molestation, indecent exposure, fondling, rape, and incest. Sexual exploitation includes, and is not limited to, conduct or activities related to pornography depicting minors and promoting prostitution by minors (Penal Code Section 11165.1[c]). With modern advances in technology, the internet is another venue predators use to exploit children.
  • Emotional maltreatment is nonphysical mistreatment, resulting in disturbed behavior by the child, such as severe withdrawal or hyperactivity. Emotional abuse includes willfully causing any child to suffer, inflicting mental suffering, or endangering a child's emotional well-being.
  • General neglect is the negligent failure of a parent/guardian or caretaker to provide adequate food, clothing, shelter, or supervision where no physical injury to the child has occurred.
  • Severe neglect refers to those situations of neglect where the child's health is endangered, including severe malnutrition.
  • Exploitation means forcing or coercing a child into performing activities that are beyond the child's capabilities or which are illegal or degrading, including sexual exploitation.

Child abuse does not include:

  • “Reasonable and necessary force” used by a person employed or engaged in a public school to quell a disturbance threatening physical injury to person or damage to property, for purposes of self-defense, or to obtain possession of weapons or other dangerous objects within the control of the student.
  • Mutual altercations between minors.
  • Injury caused by reasonable and necessary force used by a peace officer acting within the course and scope of his/her employment as a peace officer.
  • Spanking that is reasonable and age-appropriate and does not expose the child to risk of serious injury.
  • Receiving treatment by spiritual means or not receiving specific medical treatment for religious reasons shall not in themselves be considered neglect of a child, unless the practice presents a specific danger to the physical or emotional safety of the child.

District Suspected Child Abuse Reporting Procedures

Many San Diego Unified employees are mandated reporters. California Penal Code Sections 11165.7 and 11166 mandate the reporting to designated authorities of cases of suspected child abuse or neglect as follows:

  • Any mandated reporter who has knowledge of or observes a child in his/her professional capacity or within the scope of his/her employment whom he/she knows or reasonably suspects has been the victim of child abuse or neglect shall report the known or suspected instance of child abuse or neglect to a child protective agency immediately or as soon as practically possible by telephone and shall prepare and send a written report thereof within 36 hours of receiving the information concerning the incident.
  • Mandated reporters include teachers, teachers' assistants or aides, classified employees, school police, and employees of child care centers, as well as other employees and school administrators who have contact with children (Penal Code Section 11165.7[a]).
  • Reasonable suspicion. It is objectively reasonable for a person to entertain a suspicion, based upon facts that would cause a reasonable person in a like position, drawing, when appropriate, on his or her training and experience to suspect child abuse or neglect. Reasonable suspicion does not require certainty that child abuse or neglect has occurred nor does it require a specific medical indication of child abuse or neglect; any reasonable suspicion is sufficient. Note: Included are traditional or cultural health practices. When a professional believes that such practice falls within the definitions of child abuse, it must be reported.
  • Persons required to report, such as educators, are not liable either in civil damages or for criminal prosecution for reporting as required by law (Penal Code Section 11172[a]). The district will defend employees who make a report consistent with policy in the course of their employment against any actions or claims that may be made as a result of said report and will pay expenses associated with such defense. Failure to comply with this reporting policy may subject an employee to professional and personal liability.
  • No supervisor or administrator may impede or inhibit reporting by a mandated reporter, nor may they take any actions against the reporter for making a report (Penal Code Section 11166[i]).

What if you Suspect Child Abuse or Neglect?

Any adult or parent can and should report suspected child abuse or neglect to an official child protective agency. In San Diego County, reports are made either to San Diego Police Department or to the San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency (HHSA) Children's Services Child Abuse Hotline. School Police is not a child protective agency.

  • If you think that a child is in immediate danger, call your local police or 911.
  • Contact City of San Diego Police Department Child Abuse Unit at 619-531-2260 (Monday-Friday, business hours) or 619-531-2000 (24-hour response number)
  • Contact the County's Child Welfare Services 24-hour Hotline at (858) 560-2191.

San Diego County Child Abuse Hotline

The Hotline receives referrals from community. The Hotline social worker does an immediate assessment of the referral. If the child is determined to be at risk a social worker is assigned to investigate. Within the State of California you may call toll free 1(800) 344-6000.

The 24-hour Hotline is staffed by trained social workers who receive calls about child abuse, molestation and neglect. Each call is logged and evaluated as to the level of possible risk to the child. Neighbors, friends or relatives concerned about a child's safety, parents who are afraid they may hurt or neglect their child, and children who believe they are being abused should telephone the Hotline to discuss their concerns. Referrals to resources and additional help is given to any who have that need.

Some individuals are identified by law as mandated reporters. Doctors, nurses, social workers and teachers, for example, must contact authorities if they suspect or are told about child abuse.

If it is determined that the child may be in immediate danger, a social worker and/or law enforcement officer will make a home visit within a few hours of receiving notification. If there is not an immediate danger, a social worker will investigate within three to ten days of receiving a call if it is determined that the child may be at risk.

For assistance or more information, contact the district's Quality Assurance Office at 619-725-7211 or [email protected].