Are There Shades of Gray?



Optimal Care
Compromised Care Minimal Care Neglect Abuse Death of a Child


There is a continuum between good parenting to poor parenting to neglect and abuse. Understanding the difference between minimal care and neglect is especially challenging for mandated reporters. The minimal level of care includes the provision of food, water, clothing, housing, medical and dental care, education, and adequate supervision. Neglect occurs when a parent fails to provide a minimal level of care and the child is harmed or in imminent danger of harm.

What is “Imminent Danger of Harm?”

According to state law, child abuse or neglect occurs when a child has been harmed in the ways previously described or is in “imminent danger of harm.” “Danger” is exposure to harm or injury and “imminent” means about to happen or immediately threatening. Thus, for child protective service purposes, “imminent danger” means that the child is placed at risk of some harm or injury that could occur immediately. A mandated reporter should call the Hotline if he/she thinks a child is in “imminent danger” of harm.

Some indicators may or may not be due to abuse and neglect, while others are more clear-cut. The following are common situations which may or may not be reportable depending on the surrounding circumstances.

About spanking: Corporal punishment is not automatically considered abuse or neglect in New York State. It is legal for a parent or guardian to spank or otherwise hit a child as a form of discipline. However, the law states that “excessive corporal punishment” does constitute abuse or neglect, depending on its severity. For example, if a parent’s discipline results in injury, it is reportable. Legal definition

About children living in poverty:  While there is a correlation between poverty and neglect- with poverty a documented risk factor- it’s important to note that they are not one and the same.  Poverty has the potential to impact a family’s access to concrete needs, medical care, safe housing, transportation, and other services.  Primary prevention can begin when mandated reporters or others in the community recognize a family struggling with the implications of poverty and works to connect the family with concrete needs and services.  This can prevent neglect and child protective service intervention in many instances.

About domestic violence: Even though domestic violence can have a long-term negative impact on a child’s development, it is not automatically considered abuse or neglect. The occurrence of domestic violence does raise a ‘red flag’ that the child may be harmed or at imminent danger of harm in other ways. However, domestic violence in the home, in and of itself, can meet the legal definition of child neglect. For example, if a child witnesses domestic violence between the parents and is harmed (or in imminent danger of harm) themselves, it is reportable. Legal definition

About sexual contact: Any kind of sexual contact between an adult and a child is illegal, without exception. There are physical indicators of sexual abuse. For example, if you notice an indicator of sexual abuse and there is a reason to suspect that the physical indicator is the result of a sexual act with an adult, it is reportable. Legal definition