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Children and Family Services
What Constitutes Child Abuse Under Colorado Law?  

Child Protective Services (CPS), which is a division of the Mesa County Department of Human Services, follows Title 19 of the Colorado Revised Statutes (CRS) for laws pertaining to abuse and neglect of children in the state.  There are also laws pertaining to child abuse and neglect in Title 18 of the CRS, which is the criminal code used by law enforcement when determining if a criminal offense has taken place.  Law enforcement and Child Protective Services often work together when investigating child abuse and/or neglect.

Physical Abuse: 

Physical abuse is defined in CRS 19-1-103(1)(a)(I) as, “Any case in which a child exhibits evidence of skin bruising, bleeding, malnutrition, failure to thrive, burns, fracture of any bone, subdural hematoma, soft tissue swelling, or death and either: Such condition or death is not justifiably explained; the history given concerning such condition is at variance with the degree or type of such condition or death; or the circumstances indicate that such condition may not be the product of an accidental occurrence;”

In summary, physical abuse is defined as any case in which a child has an identifiable or observable injury that is not the result of an accidental occurrence.  Some injuries are not clearly observed on the outside of the child’s body, but are identifiable through other means, such as pain or medical tests.  Vulnerable areas for injury that may not be readily visible would be head trauma or abdominal injury.  It is possible for children to have internal injuries to these areas without physical evidence, so it is important if a child is disclosing abuse inflicted in these areas that a report be made to CPS right away.  Parents are allowed to use physical discipline, such as spanking, when disciplining their children under Colorado law, but they are not allowed to leave injuries when using physical discipline. 

Physical Indicators of Physical Abuse: 

  • Unexplained injuries (Bruises, burns, broken bones, cuts)
  • Injuries in various stages of healing
  • Injuries of unusual configuration/shape
  • Multiple injuries
  • Injuries in certain locations considered atypical for accidental injuries
  • Delay in seeking medical attention for the child

Behavioral Indicators of Physical Abuse: 

  • Reports non-accidental injury
  • Expresses fear of certain persons
  • Behavioral extremes: aggression or withdrawal
  • Wary of routine adult contact
  • Feels deserving of punishment
  • The story given does not match the injury/inconsistent stories
  • Child wears inappropriate clothing for weather to cover body

Sexual Abuse: 

Sexual abuse is defined in CRS 19-1-103(1)(a)(II) as, “Any case in which a child is subjected to unlawful sexual behavior as defined in section 16-22-102 (9), C.R.S.; “  Unlawful sexual behavior includes sexual assault or molestation, incest, sexual exploitation, prostituting of children, trafficking in children, internet sexual exploitation of children, internet luring of children, and promotion of obscenity to a minor.  

Physical Indicators of Sexual Abuse: 

  • Injuries to the genitals, including bruises or bleeding
  • Pain, itching or swelling in genital area
  • Torn, stained or bloody underclothing
  • Vaginal/Penile discharge
  • Sexually Transmitted Diseases
  • Pregnancy

Behavioral Indicators of Sexual Abuse: 

  • Disclosure of sexual assault
  • Inappropriate knowledge of sexual behavior/inappropriate sexual play
  • Poor peer relationships
  • Child is placed in spousal role versus child role
  • Delinquent or runaway behavior
  • Sudden behavioral shifts

Emotional Abuse: 

Emotional abuse is defined in CRS 19-1-103(1)(a)(IV) as, “    Any case in which a child is subjected to emotional abuse.  As used in this subparagraph (IV), ‘emotional abuse’ means an identifiable and substantial impairment of the child’s intellectual or psychological functioning or development or a substantial risk of impairment of the child’s intellectual or psychological functioning or development.”

Emotional abuse is often difficult to prove and can be very damaging to children long-term.  In order to say that emotional abuse of a child has occurred, CPS has to have enough evidence to indicate that not only is the parent or caretaker abusive, but the abuse is having an identifiable and substantial impact on the child or there is substantial risk of impairment to the child as a result of the abuse.  Emotional abuse often accompanies other forms of abuse or neglect.

Physical Indicators of Emotional Abuse: 

  • Speech disorders
  • Delays in physical development
  • Failure to Thrive
  • Hyperactive/disruptive
  • Sallow or empty facial appearance 

Behavioral Indicators of Emotional Abuse: 

  • Habit disorders – sucking, biting, rocking
  • Antisocial behavior
  • Neurotic traits – sleep disorders, inhibited play, unusual fearfulness
  • Behavioral extremes- constant flat expression, overly compliant or aggressive
  • Destructive
Important Numbers - Child Welfare
Department of Human Services
Main Line (970) 241-8480
Parent Help Line
(800) 244-5373  
Assistance Programs - Fax Number
(970) 248-2849 
Partnership for Children and Families
(970) 244-3838
Child Protection Hotline
(970) 242-1211 
Welfare Fraud Hotline
(970) 256-2421 
Child Support
(970) 248-2780  
Western Colorado 211
2-1-1 or (970) 244-8400
Foster Parent Info Line
(970) 248-2794  
Workforce Center
(970) 248-0871
(970) 244-8400
Veterans Office
(970) 248-2733

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