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Child Neglect

Every child has the right to expect that their parent or primary responsible caregiver will reasonably and prudently provide clothing, food, medical care, protection, shelter, and supervision. When a parent or primary responsible caregiver fails to provide the essential things to a child, a child may be neglected. Child neglect is more common and sometimes more devastating than child abuse. Often times child neglect and abuse are referred to in the same type of context.


Neglect may be physical, emotional, medical, or educational. First, physical neglect includes the failure to provide food, shelter, and clothing to the child. Second, emotional neglect includes the lack of physical and emotional contact between the parent or caregiver and the child. Third, medical neglect refers to the parent or caregiver’s failure to provide reasonable and proper medical care for the child. Last, educational neglect refers to the inattention to a child’s emotional needs and requirement to attend school. The above examples do not always lead to the conclusion that a child is neglected, however, they are indicators that neglect may be an issue.

Parental or Primary Responsible Caregiver’s Duties

A parent or primary responsible caregiver fulfills their duty by doing certain things that promote growth, safety, and health. Because they cannot always promote growth, health, and safety to an optimal level, they must not be held to a standard of perfect care. However, when care falls below a reasonable or prudent level, the child may be neglected.

Consequences of Child Neglect

Child neglect may relate to health consequences, mental or cognitive consequences, or behavioral issues. Child neglect can place children at higher risk for a variety of diseases and conditions, especially if the child is not properly or adequately fed or cared for.

Investigation of Reported Neglect

If neglect has been reported to a social service agency or local agency, or is suspected by a professional, an investigation will likely occur. Every state has different requirements that govern the parameters of the investigation. If the neglect is of a severe nature, the child may be removed from the home and placed in foster care or with a relative. Some parents or caregivers may be required to show that their circumstances have changed or that they are able and willing to provide proper care for their child. The social service agency in each state generally handles these types of matters.

Criminal Neglect

If neglect by the parent or caregiver is so severe or if the neglect resulted in the death of a child, the parent or caregiver may be charged with criminal neglect. States vary on the name of the offense and the elements required in charging one for criminal negligence.