We are all probably sadly familiar with the concept of child abuse as a physical act of some form that is committed against a child. What we may not realize, however, is that child abuse in Pennsylvania can also include mental abuse.
What Pennsylvania Law Says About the Mental Abuse of a Child
The definition of “child abuse” in Pennsylvania specifically includes two broad types of mental abuse committed against children.
The first is where the parent or another caregiver makes up a medical symptom or disease that causes the child to undergo “a potentially harmful medical evaluation or treatment.” This relates to a mental condition suffered by the caregiver that is known as “Munchausen's syndrome by proxy,” where the caregiver invents a disease or symptom for the child, and as a result, the child is forced to endure potentially dangerous medical tests, treatments, or procedures.
The second type of mental abuse that is written into Pennsylvania law is more direct. It is where the caregiver causes or “substantially contributes” to a “serious mental injury” suffered by the child through an act, a failure to act, or a series of either of those.
Serious Mental Injury
Pennsylvania law also defines “serious mental injury.” In particular, it must be a psychological condition that has been diagnosed by a physician or licensed psychologist. In addition, a “serious mental injury” is one that makes the child “chronically and severely anxious, agitated, depressed, socially withdrawn, psychotic, or in reasonable fear” that their life is in danger. It can also be a mental injury that “seriously interferes with a child's ability to accomplish age-appropriate developmental and social tasks.”
There Must Be a Connection Between the Caregiver's Acts and the Serious Mental Injury
Not every mental condition suffered by a child is the result of child abuse. There are, unfortunately, many children raised by parents or caregivers in loving and caring homes who are not abused by those caregivers but who still may suffer from serious mental conditions.
Pennsylvania law recognizes this. It specifically requires that the “serious mental injury” to the child be one that is connected to something that the caregiver does or fails to do, whether once or repeatedly.
What to Do if You Are Accused of Causing the Serious Mental Injury of a Child
If you are a caregiver and receive a notice that you are suspected of child abuse because a child or children in your care are suffering from one or more mental disorders, you need the help of an experienced attorney who understands how Pennsylvania's child abuse laws and procedures work. You and your entire household will be investigated thoroughly by the state in an effort to determine whether the claims against you can be substantiated.
You need an attorney by your side through this difficult and stressful process. A skilled attorney will make sure that your rights are respected and that the investigators from your county ask clear questions that you and others in your family or household understand before you answer them. If matters proceed to the hearing stage, your attorney will help you prepare your defense and can represent you through the entire proceeding. And if an appeal is necessary, a skilled attorney will know how to identify the proper issues on appeal and how best to argue them.
Joseph D. Lento Can Help
Joseph D. Lento has been helping parents and caregivers suspected and accused of child abuse in Pennsylvania for years. He and the Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team understand Pennsylvania's child abuse laws, the investigation and court procedures that apply to child abuse cases, and they will make sure that your rights are respected throughout this difficult process.
If you have been told that someone has filed a child abuse allegation against you, call Joseph D. Lento as soon as you can; the sooner you do so, the better. You can reach him at 888.535.3686, or you can use this online link to schedule a confidential consultation with the Lento Law Firm Team. The Lento Law Firm Team understands how difficult these situations are for parents and caregivers; we are standing by, ready to listen and to help!