Washington State Laws Regarding Verbally Abusing Children

What constitutes the fine line of reprimanding a child and verbally abusing one? Almost every parent, at one time or another, has spoken harshly to a child. You may even have said things you sorely regretted and later wished you could take back. Verbal abuse is difficult to define and normally falls into the category of emotional abuse and sometimes under the even broader term of mental abuse 2. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services 2011 report states that child fatalities from physical abuse, acts of physical abuse and neglect are often accompanied by other types of maltreatment such as verbal abuse.

Legal Definition

The Child Welfare Information Gateway website combines verbal abuse under emotional abuse 2. It defines emotional maltreatment as “injury to the psychological capacity or emotional stability of the child as evidenced by an observable or substantial change in behavior, emotional response or cognition” accompanied by signs of “anxiety, depression, withdrawal or aggressive behavior.” It notes that only the District of Columbia, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico and 32 states actually provide definitions of emotional abuse. Washington state does not. However, Washington does call maltreatment and neglect as an act, omission or failure to act that may cause injury or substantial risk to a child’s emotional development.

Verbally Abusive Behavior

All children are potentially vulnerable to verbal abuse. It may come from a parent, teacher, caregiver or even school mates. The Washington State Department of Social and Health Services website suggests emotional abuse is the belittling, demeaning or constant blaming of a child by an adult. Bullying is another type of verbal abuse that can include verbal insults, intimidation and sending cruel text messages or posting demeaning and hurtful notes on social media sites.

Recognizing Verbal Abuse

Verbal abuse can be difficult to spot. There are no outward physical signs, as it’s all on the inside. People who are verbal abusers call children hurtful names, intimidate their children and threaten them -- sometimes with bodily harm or abandonment. These insults, mean names and sometimes sexual harassment can leave a child feeling depressed and anxious and leave them with feelings of low self-worth and self-esteem that can last a lifetime. They may be overly compliant, aggressive, show bullying behavior or even be passive and possibly delayed physically and emotionally.

Reporting Abuse

Suspected child abuse is reported to offices in local communities in Washington state. Officials with the Child Protective Services department review each report to determine its validity and to ensure it meets the definition and criteria as set out by the state. Anyone reporting verbal abuse, maltreatment or neglect will be asked for the name, address and age of the child; parent or guardian names; the nature of the abuse, and any other relevant information.

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