Childhood Neglect


The role of the family in American society is important in our nation's history and tradition. Society presumes that parents want to and do act in their children's best interest. Based on that assumption, parents have a right to rear their children if they are willing and able to protect them. However, the Supreme Court provided that this presumption can be overcome and cited the incidence of child abuse and neglect as grounds for rebutting parents rights. Therefore, when parents cannot meet their children's needs and protect their children from harm, society has a responsibility to intervene to protect the health and welfare of children.

Child Neglect: A condition in which a caretaker responsible for the child, either deliberately or by extraordinary inattentiveness, permits the child to experience avoidable present suffering and/or fails to provide one or more of the ingredients generally deemed essential for developing a person's physical, intellectual, and emotional capacities.

A study commissioned by the National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect determined that 64% of the cases of child maltreatment involved child neglect. The study reported 996,600 children had been the victims of neglect during the year analyzed. Breaking the neglect down by types:

Physical neglect is the most frequently occurring type. It accounts for 51% of the neglect cases and involved 507,000 children in 1988.

Educational neglect is the second most frequent type occurring in 29% of the cases involving 285,900 children.

Emotional neglect is the least frequent type with 203,000 children or 20% of the neglect cases.

Generally, child neglect means the failure of a parent or a caretaker responsible for the child's care to provide minimally adequate food, clothing, shelter, supervision, and/or medical care for the child. Defining minimally adequate levels of care, and reaching consensus on these definitions, however, are not easy processes.

Types of Neglect

The following describes various types of child neglect under the four categories of physical neglect, emotional neglect, educational neglect and supervision neglect.

Physical Neglect

Refusal of Health Care - Failure to provide or allow needed care in accord with recommendations of a competent health care professional for a physical injury, illness, medical condition, or impairment.

Delay in Health Care - Failure to seek timely and appropriate medical care for a serious health problem which any reasonable layman would have recognized as needing professional medical attention.

Abandonment - Desertion of a child without arranging for reasonable care and supervision. This category included cases in which children were not claimed within 2 days, and when children were left by parents/substitutes who gave no (or false) information about their whereabouts.

Expulsion - Other blatant refusals of custody, such as permanent or indefinite expulsion of a child from the home without adequate arrangement for care by others, or refusal to accept custody of a returned runaway.

Other Custody Issues - Custody-related forms of inattention to the child's needs other than those covered by abandonment or expulsion. For example, repeated shuttling of a child from one household to another due to apparent unwillingness to maintain custody, or chronically and repeatedly leaving a child with others for days/weeks at a time.

Other Physical Neglect - Conspicuous inattention to avoidable hazards in the home; inadequate nutrition, clothing, or hygiene; and other forms of reckless disregard of the child's safety and welfare, such as driving with the child while intoxicated, leaving a young child unattended in a motor vehicle, and so forth.

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