Child Abuse Law in Ohio
prepared by the Family Defense Network of Ohio

Ohio law is very specific when it comes to parental authority, the child's obligation to obey the parent, and what constitutes child abuse. Many police officers, social workers, prosecutors, and even judges, don't understand these laws until they are explained to them. It is important for everyone involved in a child abuse investigation to know exactly what the law says. One of the most important statutes is the law that defines child abuse in Ohio. The portion that allows a parent to use physical discipline on their child is located in subsection (C).


[§ 2151.03.1] § 2151.031 Abused child defined.

As used in this chapter, an "abused child" includes any child who:
(A) Is the victim of "sexual activity" as defined under Chapter 2907. Of the Revised Code, where such activity would constitute an offense under that chapter, except that the court need not find that any person has been convicted of the offense in order to find that the child is an abused child;
(B) Is endangered as defined in section 2919.22 of the Revised Code, except that the court need not find that any person has been convicted under that section in order to find that the child is an abused child;
(C) Exhibits evidence of any physical or mental injury or death, inflicted other than by accidental means, or an injury or death which is at variance with the history given of it. Except as provided in division (D) of this section, a child exhibiting evidence of corporal punishment or other physical disciplinary measure by a parent, guardian, custodian, person having custody or control, or person in loco parentis of a child is not an abused child under this division if the measure is not prohibited under section 2919.22 of the Revised Code.
(D) Because of the acts of his parents, guardian, or custodian, suffers physical or mental injury that harms or threatens to harm the child's health or welfare.
(E) Is subjected to out-of-home care child abuse.
HISTORY: 1996 H 274, eff 8-8-96
1988 S 89; 1975 H 85

You will notice that the law states "a child exhibiting evidence of corporal punishment or other physical disciplinary measure by a parent (or ANYONE having ANY TYPE of custody of a child) is not an abused child under this division if the measure is not prohibited under section 2919.22 of the Revised Code." Evidence is something left behind, an indication that corporal punishment has occurred. Section 2919.22 specifies what is "prohibited."


§ 2919.22 Endangering children

(A) No person, who is the parent, guardian, custodian, person having custody or control, or person in loco parentis of a child under eighteen years of age or a mentally or physically handicapped child under twenty-one years of age, shall create a substantial risk to the health or safety of the child, by violating a duty of care, protection, or support. It is not a violation of a duty of care, protection, or support under this division when the parent, guardian, custodian, person having custody or control of a child treats the physical or mental illness or defect of the child by spiritual means through prayer alone, in accordance with the tenets of a recognized religious body.
(B) No person shall do any of the following to a child under eighteen years of age or a mentally or physically handicapped child under twenty-one years of age:
(1) Abuse the child;
(2) Torture or cruelly abuse the child;
(3) Administer corporal punishment or other physical disciplinary measure, or physically restrain the child in a cruel manner or for a prolonged period, which punishment, discipline, or restraint is excessive under the circumstances and creates a substantial risk of serious physical harm to the child.
(4) Repeatedly administer unwarranted disciplinary measures to the child, when there is a substantial risk that such conduct, if continued, will seriously impair or retard the child's mental health or development;
(5) Entice, coerce, permit, encourage, compel, hire, employ, use, or allow a child to act, model, or in any other way participate in, or be photographed for, the production, presentation, dissemination, or advertisement of any material or performance that the offender knows or reasonably should know is obscene, is sexually oriented matter, or is nudity-oriented matter.
HISTORY: 1997 H 352, eff 1-1-98
1990 S 3, eff 4-11-91; 1985 H 349; 1975 H 85; 1972 H 511

This section states that the physical punishment must be "excessive" AND "create a substantial risk" of "serious physical harm" to the child. The word "and" is an inclusive term, and both of these criteria must be met in order for the discipline to be considered abusive. "Substantial risk" is a much more dangerous standard than simple risk. Section 2901.01 defines "serious physical harm."


§ 2901.01 Definitions.

(A) As used in the Revised Code:
(5) "Serious physical harm to persons" means any of the following:
(a) Any mental illness or condition of such gravity as would normally require hospitalization or prolonged psychiatric treatment;
(b) Any physical harm that carries a substantial risk of death;
(c) Any physical harm that involves some permanent incapacity, whether partial or total, or that involves some temporary, substantial incapacity;
(d) Any physical harm that involves some permanent disfigurement, or that involves some temporary, serious disfigurement;
(e) Any physical harm that involves acute pain of such duration as to result in substantial suffering, or that involves any degree of prolonged or intractable pain.

"Serious Physical Harm" is the criteria needed to convict someone of "Felonious Assault." One person slapping another and causing a bruise will never fit the criteria needed to convict that person of a felony. The same standard applies to corporal punishment.

Ohio law is also very specific regarding parental authority and child responsibility. Section 2151.021 states that a child must comply with the "reasonable control" of his parents. This authority also applies to teachers, foster parents, and temporary custodians.


[§ 2151.02.2] § 2151.022 Unruly child defined

As used in this chapter, "unruly child" includes any of the following:
(A) Any child who does not subject himself or herself to the reasonable control of his or her parents, teachers, guardian, or custodian, by reason of being wayward or habitually disobedient;
(B) Any child who is an habitual truant from home or school;
(C) Any child who so deports himself or herself as to injure or endanger his or her health or morals or the health or morals of others;

The law states that a misbehaving child who is NOT disciplined by his parents is "without proper parental care." In other words, the state expects parents to properly discipline their children when necessary.


[§ 2151.05] § 2151.05 Child without proper parental care.

Under sections 2151.01 to 2151.54 of the Revised Code, a child whose home is filthy and unsanitary; whose parents, stepparents, guardian, or custodian permit him to become dependent, neglected, abused, or delinquent; whose parents, stepparents, guardian, or custodian, when able, refuse or neglect to provide him with necessary care, support, medical attention, and education facilities; or whose parents, stepparents, guardian, or custodian fail to subject such child to necessary discipline is without proper parental care or guardianship.