Child Neglect (Glossary)

Child Neglect is Often Chronic

Federal legislation defines child neglect as, at minimum, either (a) a recent act or failure to act on the part of a parent or caregiver which results in death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse or exploitation; or (b) an act or failure to act which presents an imminent risk of serious harm. Severe or chronic abuse or neglect of a child or other children in the home may be grounds for the termination of parental rights.

Within these federal guidelines, each state must provide its own definitions. Most states recognize four major types of maltreatment: child neglect, physical abuse, sexual abuse, and emotional abuse. These may occur separately or together.

Child neglect is, essentially, a failure to provide for a child's basic needs. A wide variety of omissions fall under this umbrella. For example, neglect could be physical - that is, failing to provide food or shelter, or the lack of appropriate supervision. Medical neglect involves failure to provide necessary medical or mental health care. Educational neglect is the failure to educate a child or attend to special education needs, while emotional neglect consists of behaviors such as inattention to a child's emotional needs, failure to provide psychological care, or allowing the child to use drugs or alcohol.

Child neglect makes up 63% of all substantiated cases of child abuse, and is the most common form of maltreatment reported to child protective agencies. Rather than being a one-time or occasional occurrence, neglect is usually found as an ongoing pattern of inadequate care. Those in frequent contact with the children can often spot neglect easily.

Physicians, nurses, day care teachers, relatives, and neighbors are often the first to suspect and report child neglect. However, anyone who has concerns that a child is being neglected or abused may make a report. Phone numbers for reporting neglect and abuse are often found on the first page of telephone books, with other emergency numbers such as fire and police agencies. Or individuals may contact the Childhelp® USA National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-CHILD. (1-800-422-4453). Calls are answered 7 days/week, 24 hours/day by professional counselors with information on local agencies. All calls are anonymous. Making such a report can be a difficult decision, but it can protect a child, get help for a family, and possibly even save a child's life.