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What is Child Neglect?
Most of us cannot imagine abusing or neglecting our children. However, child abuse and neglect are very real problems. While each State defines child abuse and neglect in it’s own way, there are minimum standards set by Federal law. Child neglect often is the result of a failure to act in a certain way given a set of circumstances. Before we can understand neglect as a specific form of child maltreatment, we first need a basic foundation of the definition of child abuse and neglect in general.
Federal Definition of Child Abuse and Child Neglect
Federal law defines child abuse and neglect as, at minimum:
- Any recent ACT or FAILURE TO ACT on the part of a parent or caretaker which results in death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse or exploitation; or
- An ACT or FAILURE TO ACT that presents an imminent risk of serious harm.
When we talk about child abuse and child neglect, it usually relates to harm to a child caused by parents or other caregivers and not harm caused by other people, such as acquaintances or strangers.
What Are the Major Types of Child Abuse and Neglect?
Most States recognize four major types of maltreatment:
- physical abuse
- sexual abuse
- emotional abuse
Many states include the following:
- parental substance abuse
These often occur in combination.
Specifically What is Child Neglect?
Neglect is defined as the failure of a parent, guardian, or other caregiver to provide for a child’s basic needs. Child neglect can be:
- Physical (failure to provide food or shelter, or appropriate supervision)
- Medical (failure to provide medical or mental health treatment)
- Educational (failure to educate a child or attend to special education needs)
- Emotional (inattention to a child’s emotional needs, failure to provide psychological care, or permitting the child to use alcohol or other drugs)
While they all sound awful, these situations do not always mean a child is neglected. Cultural values, the standards of care in the community, and poverty may be contributing factors. The whole picture needs to be taken into account when evaluating a particular case. Many instances of child neglect may indicate the family is in need of information or assistance.
When a family fails to use information and resources, and the child’s health or safety is at risk, child welfare intervention may be required. However, many States provide an exception to the definition of neglect for parents who do not seek medical care for their children due to religious beliefs that prohibit medical intervention.
A hot topic in the area of child neglect is the potential for educational neglect of children who are home schooled.
This information has been adapted from the Child Welfare Information Gateway.