Assessment of Emotional Abuse

0070-534.10 | Revision Date: 07/01/14


This policy guide provides information on assessing and investigating allegations of emotional abuse.



Assessment of Emotional Abuse


Investigating Allegations of Emotional Abuse

CSW Responsibilities


Helpful Links

Referenced Policy Guides


Version Summary

This policy guide was updated from the 12/19/11 version, as part of the Policy Redesign, in accordance with the DCFS Strategic Plan.


Assessment of Emotional Abuse

Emotional abuse refers to a situation when a person willfully causes or permits a child to suffer, inflicts unjustifiable physical pain or mental suffering on a child, or willfully causes or permits the child to be placed in a situation in which their health is endangered while under their custody. 


To determine if emotional abuse has occurred, there must be information on the caregiver’s behavior and the child’s behavior and condition over a period of time.  CSW’s determine whether there is a chronic behavioral pattern of emotional abuse. Behavior alone is not deemed, in and of itself, to be evidence of emotional abuse.


Examples of caregiver’s behavior associated with emotional abuse can include but are not limited to:


Emotional abuse is typically not an isolated incident. Occasional negative attitudes or actions are not considered emotional abuse. Indicators of suspected emotional abuse may include, but are not limited to the following. The child:

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Investigating Allegations of Emotional Abuse

CSW Responsibilities

  1. Investigate the allegation of emotional abuse. Use the child’s own words and terminology. Give accurate quotes of both questions and answers as much as possible. Do not interpret.


  1. The following should be considered when interviewing the child:


  1. Document all observations and information gathered during the investigation from all sources/witnesses in the Contact Notebook and/or the Investigation Narrative.
  1. Include all indications that the child is suffering or at risk of suffering severe emotional damage.
  1. Include any evaluation(s) made by a mental health professional and any statements from treating therapists




Referenced Policy Guides

0070-548.10, Disposition of Allegations and Closure of Emergency Response Referrals

0070-548.24, Structural Decision Making (SDM)

0070-548.25, Completing the Structured Decision Making (SDM) Safety Plan

0400-503.10, Contact Requirement and Exceptions


California Code of Civil Procedure Section 527.6 (a)(3) – Defines harassment as “unlawful violence [or] a credible threat of violence … that seriously alarms, annoys, or harasses the person, and that serves no legitimate purpose. The course of conduct must be such as would cause a reasonable person to suffer substantial emotional distress, and must actually cause substantial emotional distress to the petitioner.


California Department of Social Services (CDSS) Manual of Policies and Procedures (MPP) Sections 31-002(c)(9)(A) – Defines emotional abuse as referring to nonphysical mistreatment, resulting in disturbed behavior on the part of the child such as severe withdrawal, regression, bizarre behavior, hyperactivity, or dangerous acting-out behavior.


CDSS MPP 31-002(e)(13) – Defines “exploitation" as forcing or coercing a child into performing functions which are beyond his/her capabilities or capacities, or into illegal or degrading acts. The term also includes sexual exploitation as defined by Penal Code Section 11165.1(c).


Penal Code Section 11165.3, – Defines emotional abuse as “the willful harming or injuring of a child or the endangering of the person or health of a child” and as a situation in which any person willfully causes or permits any child to suffer, or inflicts thereon, unjustifiable mental suffering.

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