Child Abuse

The Family Protection Unit (FPU) is responsible for the prosecution of child abuse under Penal Code §273a(a) and §273a(b).

The perpetrators are persons who are entrusted with protecting the victim.  The victims are some of the most vulnerable members of our community. Many of them cannot speak up for themselves or even speak yet. 

Types of conduct that constitute abuse under these sections include;

  • Willfully causing or permitting a child to suffer unjustifiable physical pain or mental suffering, and endangering the person or health of the child. 
  • Mental and physical abuse are against the law.  
    • A felony will be charged if the abuse occurs under conditions that are “likely to cause great bodily harm or death.”  
    • A misdemeanor will be charged if there is no such likelihood based on the conduct.  There is no requirement that there be actual injury inflicted on the child under either of these charging sections.   
  • Penal Code §273d is the most common section used when the abuser does inflict injury on a child.  This can be charged either as a felony or a misdemeanor.  

Family Protection Unit prosecutors consider numerous factors while evaluating whether a case should be a felony or misdemeanor. These factors include; 

  • Severity of the injury inflicted, how it was inflicted, why it was inflicted, the age and size of the parties, prior abuse, prior criminal history of the abuser, and where the abuser used a weapon.  

These cases require special expertise and sensitivity.  Veteran prosecutors with extensive felony trial experience are assigned to prosecute the cases from filing to sentencing.  A veteran investigator is assigned to assist the prosecution of these crimes.  Both the investigator and prosecutor attend specialized training on the subject.  

The Family Protection Unit handles the felony child abuse cases.  The misdemeanor child abuse cases are handled by the appropriate branch courts. If any child abuse injury results in death, the case is prosecuted by the Homicide Unit.

People v. Carol Denise Mccullough (2003)

A grandmother was charged with six felony counts including child abuse, child endangerment, and corporal punishment.  She pled guilty and went to prison for burning cigarettes on her 3-year-old grandson’s body and face, breaking his ribs and collarbone, and tying him to a bed.  The defendant tried to justify her brutality by saying she was trying to make the boy more of a man.  Evidence showed that the young child had been abused most of his life.  

To Report Child Abuse

Orange County Child Abuse Registry, Child Protective Services 

  • (800) 207-4464 – Child Abuse HOTLINE
  • (714) 940-1000 - Report suspected child abuse – Confidential, 24 hours a day.

Childhelp USA – National Child Abuse Hotline 

  • (800) 422-4453

Abuse Prevention Programs

Orange County Child Abuse Prevention Center 

  • (714) 543-4333 - Parenting education, child abuse prevention and intervention.

Children’s Bureau of Southern California 

  • (714) 517-1900 - Prevention and treatment of child abuse.

A Safe Place for Newborns 

Orange County Office of the District Attorney Family Protection Unit 

  • (714) 347-8569


Call the Child Abuse Registry and report the abuse at: (714) 940-1000 or (800) 207-4464.

Anyone can make a child abuse report. You can report anonymously. Tell the Registry what you saw or heard. The Registry will classify the call and forward it to social workers who make field calls to follow up. You will not receive any feedback about the results of your call, nor will you be involved any further.  The Department of Social Services will pick up the call and respond.  Under the law, some people are mandated reporters of child abuse.  This relates to employment in all cases, and if it pertains to you, your employer would have provided training in what to do when child abuse is reasonably suspected.

When someone is accused of abusing a child, it can have lasting and far-reaching negative effects.  Seek legal counsel if such allegations are being made, and determine what steps you to take in consultation with the attorney.  Each situation is different, and no one solution will work in all cases.