Child Neglect

Neglect - Child Neglect and Abuse

Safe Child
Child Neglect Fact Sheet

This Fact Sheet was originally developed with support from the National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect, Administration on Children, Youth, and Families, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Washington, DC

Child neglect is the most common form of child maltreatment reported to public child protective services. The National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System (NCANDS) reports that an estimated 3 million children were reported for maltreatment in 1995, and over 1,000,000 of those cases were substantiated or indicated. Further, 52% of that figure were substantiated as neglect cases. In an independent study, the National Committee to Prevent Child Abuse (NCPCA) estimated that 3,140,000 children were reported for all types of maltreatment in 1994, and child neglect accounted for approximately 45% of reported cases and 49% of substantiated cases. Also, in 1994, NCPCA estimated that 1,271 children died as a result of maltreatment of which 42% were attributed to neglect (NCPCA, 1995).

What is Neglect?

The NCANDS report defines neglect as "a type of maltreatment that refers to the failure to provide needed, age-appropriate care." Unlike physical and sexual abuse, neglect is usually typified by an ongoing pattern of inadequate care and is readily observed by individuals in close contact with the child. Physicians, nurses, day-care personnel, relatives, and neighbors are frequently the ones to suspect and report neglected infants, toddlers, and preschool-aged children. Once children are in school, school personnel often notice indicators of child neglect such as poor hygiene, poor weight gain, inadequate medical care, or frequent absences from school. Professionals have defined four types of neglect­­physical, emotional, educational, and medical.

Physical neglect accounts for the majority of cases of maltreatment. It is estimated that 8 of every 1,000 children experience physical neglect (NCANDS, 1997). The definition includes the refusal of or extreme delay in seeking necessary health care, child abandonment, inadequate supervision, rejection of a child leading to expulsion from the home, and failing to adequately provide for the child’s safety and physical and emotional needs. Physical neglect can severely impact a child’s development by causing failure to thrive; malnutrition; serious illnesses; physical harm in the form of cuts, bruises, and burns due to lack of supervision; and a lifetime of low self-esteem. 

Educational neglect occurs when a child is allowed to engage in chronic truancy, is of mandatory school age but not enrolled in school or receiving school training, and/or is not receiving needed special educational training. Educational neglect can lead to underachievement in acquiring necessary basic skills, dropping out of school, and/or continually disruptive behavior. 

Emotional neglect includes such actions as chronic or extreme spousal abuse in the child’s presence, allowing a child to use drugs or alcohol, refusal or failure to provide needed psychological care, constant belittling, and withholding of affection. This pattern of behavior can lead to poor self-image, alcohol or drug abuse, destructive behavior, and even suicide. Severe neglect of infants can result in the infant failing to grow and thrive and may even lead to infant death. 

Medical neglect is the failure to provide for appropriate health care for a child although financially able to do so. In 1995, 3% of the substantiated cases of child maltreatment dealt with medical neglect (NCANDS, 1997). In some cases, a parent or other caretaker will withhold traditional medical care during the practice of certain religious beliefs. These cases generally do not fall under the definition of medical neglect, however, some states will obtain a court order forcing medical treatment of a child in order to save the child’s life or prevent life-threatening injury resulting from lack of treatment. Medical neglect can result in poor overall health and compounded medical problems. 

Although neglect is highly correlated with poverty, there is a distinction to be made between a caregiver’s ability to provide the needed care due to the lack of financial resources, illness, or cultural norms, and a caregiver’s knowing reluctance and/or refusal to provide care. Either way, children may be found to be in neglectful situations and in need of services even though the parent may not be intentionally neglectful. Whereas poverty may limit a parent’s resources to adequately provide necessities for the child, services may be offered to assist families in providing for their children.

If you suspect child neglect is occurring, the first step to take toward protecting the child is to report it to the local child protective agency, often called "social services" or "human services," in your county or state. Professionals who work with children are required by law to report suspicion of neglect or abuse. Furthermore, there are 20 states that require every citizen who suspects abuse or neglect to report it. "Reasonable suspicion" based on objective evidence, which could be firsthand observation or hearing statements made by a parent or child, is all that is needed to report. If you are unsure which is the appropriate local agency to contact, you can call the Children’s Division of the American Humane Association at (303) 792-9900 to obtain the child protective agency number for your county or state.

Sources:

Cantwell, H.B., & Rosenberg, D.A. (1990). Child neglect. Reno, NV: National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges.

DePanfilis, D., & Salus, M.K. (1992). A coordinated response to child abuse and neglect: A basic manual. McLean, VA: The Circle, Inc.

National Committee to Prevent Child Abuse. (1993). Current trends in child abuse reporting and fatalities: The results of the 1992 annual fifty state survey. Chicago, IL: Author.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect. (1996). Third national incidence study of child abuse and neglect. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect, National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System. (1997). Child maltreatment 1995: Reports from the states to the National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect, National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System. (1996). Child maltreatment 1994: Reports from the states to the National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect, National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System. (1995). Child maltreatment 1993: Reports from the states to the National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect, National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System. (1994). Child maltreatment 1992: Reports from the states to the National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect, National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System. (1993). Working Paper 2, 1991: Summary Data Component. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

This Fact Sheet was originally developed with support from the National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect, Administration on Children, Youth, and Families, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Washington, DC, grant award number 90-CA-1484.

The problem of child maltreatment will not go away on its own. If you suspect child abuse is occurring, report the abuse to your local child protective agency or to the police if the child is in immediate danger. Help is available for families at risk of abuse. For more detailed information about any of the topics discussed in this report or for a complete listing of resources referred to in this Fact Sheet, contact the American Humane Association, Children’s Division at children@americanhumane.org
 

 
Copyright American Humane Association © 2001, 2000, 1999


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