What is Child Neglect?
Child neglect is a type of maltreatment in which the caregiver fails to provide needed, age-appropriate care, even though the caregiver is financially able, or would be if offered financial or other means, to do so. Neglect is often seen as an ongoing pattern of inadequate care that is easily observed by individuals in close contact with the child.
Child neglect is the most prevalent form of child abuse in the United States. In infants, toddlers, and preschool-aged children, neglect is often reported by doctors, nurses, day care personnel, neighbors, and relatives. School-aged children suffering from signs of neglect (poor hygiene, inadequate weight gain, infrequent medical care) are often reported by school personnel.
What Are The Types of Child Neglect?
There are four recognized types of neglect that children suffer:
Physical Child Neglect - The majority of child neglect cases involve physical neglect, which is defined as a caregiver not providing a child with the basic necessities such as clothing, food, and shelter. Physical neglect may also involve child abandonment, improper supervision, rejection of a child (leading to expulsion from the home), improper safety measures, and failure to meet a child's physical and emotional needs.
Failure or refusal to provide a child these basic necessities endangers a child's physical health, well-being, psychological growth and development. This may cause problems such as failure to thrive, malnutrition, chronic illness, a lifetime of low self-esteem, and injuries from improper supervision
Emotional/Psychological Child Neglect includes engaging in chronic or extreme domestic abuse in front of the child, allowing the child to abuse drugs and alcohol, refusal (or failure) to provide needed psychological care, belittling the child and withholding affection. Severe neglect of infants through failing to meet needs of stimulation and/or nurturance can lead to failure to thrive and even death.
Emotional Child Neglect also includes:
- Corrupting or exploiting the child by encouraging illegal, destructive or antisocial behavior.
- Ignoring the child, consistently failing to provide stimulation, nurturance, encouragement, protection, or failure to acknowledge the child's existence.
- Rejecting the child, actively refusing the child's needs.
- Verbally assaulting the child through name calling, threatening, or consistent belittlement.
- Isolating the child and preventing normal social contacts with other children and/or adults.
- Terrorizing the child with threats of extreme punishment, or creating a climate of terror by playing off the child's fears.
These parental/caregiver behaviors can lead to substance use and abuse, low-self worth, suicide, and destructive behaviors in the child. Emotional child neglect is often difficult to substantiate and is generally reported secondarily to other forms of child neglect
Educational Child Neglect involves the failure of a parent/caregiver to enroll a child of mandatory school age in school or provide appropriate home schooling or special education training. This allows the child to engage in chronic truancy. Educational child neglect leads to the failure of the child to develop basic life skills, consistent disruptive behavior, and dropping out of school. It can pose a major threat to the child's emotional well-being, physical health, and normal psychological growth, especially when the child has special educational needs.
Medical Child Neglect is the failure to provide appropriate health care for a child when financially able to do so. This places a child at risk for being seriously disabled, disfigured, or dying. Even in non-emergencies, medical neglect may result in poor physical health and additional medical problems.
Medical child neglect may occur due to religious beliefs, fear or anxiety about a medical condition and its treatment, or financial issues, including lack of insurance coverage. Situations in which Child Protective Services will generally intervene via court order include:
- Child with life-threatening chronic disease is not receiving medical treatment.
- Acute medical emergency requires medical intervention.
- Child has a chronic condition that may cause disfigurement or disability if left untreated.
Medical child neglect is highly correlated with poverty. There is a clear-cut distinction between a parent/caregiver's inability to provide needed care based upon cultural norms, a lack of financial resources, and a reluctance to provide care.
Children and their families may be in need of services even if the parent isn't intentionally neglectful. If poverty is an issue, services may be offered to help families provide for their children.
Why Does Child Neglect Occur?
There are a myriad of reasons why child neglect may occur in a household. In some cases, parents are ill-prepared for parenthood, which may be remedied by learning better parenting skills through parenting classes. Other situations that may lead to child neglect and abuse include:
- Caregiver has a drug or alcohol addiction
- Family stress due to economic struggles and/or divorce
- Under- or untreated mental illness in the caregiver or children
- Caregiver was neglected as a child
- Domestic violence in the home
- Disabilities in the caregiver or child
- Family isolation, lack of family or social support
- Community violence and crime
What Are the Impacts of Child Neglect?
Neglect can interrupt a child's mental and physical development and lead to life-long psychological and physical problems. Resulting impacts can include, but are not limited to:
- Problems with self-esteem
- Attachment Disorder
- Chronic Illness
- Permanent disability
- Mental Illness
- Difficulties in school
- Child runs away
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
- Substance abuse
- Engagement in criminal activity
- Eating Disorders
What To Do If You Suspect Child Neglect:
If you see a case of suspected child neglect, report it first to the local child protective services. Reasonable suspicion based upon objective evidence and firsthand observations or statements from a parent or child is all that is needed to report.
Here is a State-by-State listing of child abuse reporting agencies and their telephone numbers.
Call Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-Child to get a referral to your local agency. Those professionals who work with children are required by law (mandated reporters) to report any reasonable suspicion of child abuse and child neglect.
Child Neglect Hotlines:
Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-Child
National Parent Helpline: 1-855-4A PARENT - 1-855-427-2736
What Will Happen If I Report Child Neglect?
Typically an agent from Child Protective Services will be sent to the home to assess the environment in which the children live. The agent may interview the parents, children, other family members, and neighbors to assess the gravity of the situation and gain an understanding of the contributing factors.
Child Protective Services will determine what actions the caregivers should take in order to provide the children with appropriate care. Their goal is to protect the children while enabling families to provide appropriate care and stay in tact. In some cases custody may be suspended depending upon caregiver compliance and cooperation with action plans mandated to address the neglect. It will then be determined if temporary foster care (with a family member or a caregiver in the foster care program) is needed to care for the children while the caregivers address the cited issues, or if the children should be removed from the home permanently if the caregiver does not comply.
Additional Resources for Child Abuse and Neglect:
State-by-State listing of child abuse reporting agencies, their websites and telephone numbers.
Childhelp is a leading national non-profit organization dedicated to helping victims of child abuse and neglect. Childhelp's approach focuses on prevention, intervention and treatment. The Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline, 1-800-4-A-CHILD, operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and receives calls from throughout the United States, Canada, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and Guam.
American Bar Association Section about Family Law and Child Custody. Leaving Your Child Home Alone Factsheet. Things to consider, laws and legal guidelines about leaving a child home alone, and tips for parents.
National Parent Helpline - Being a parent is a critically important job, 24 hours a day. It’s not always easy. Call the National Parent Helpline to get emotional support from a trained Advocate and become empowered and a stronger parent.
The Child Welfare Information Gateway provides extensive information on child neglect, its impacts, and the laws in place to prevent it.