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What is child neglect?

Charles J. Sophy, MD
Adolescent Medicine

Child neglect is a form of child maltreatment. Child neglect can be defined as a deficit in meeting a child’s basic needs. Furthermore, child neglect is the failure to provide basic physical health care, supervision, nutrition, emotional nurturing, education or safe housing.

Society generally believes there are necessary behaviors a caregiver must provide a child in order for the child to develop (physically, socially, and emotionally). It is important to note that child neglect is how a child and society perceives the parents’ behavior; it is not how the parent believes they are behaving towards their child. It is important to distinguish between parental failure to provide when options are available and when options are not available.

Poverty is often an issue and leads parents to not being able to provide. The circumstances and intentionality must be examined before defining behavior as neglectful. Child neglect is the most frequent form of abuse of children.

In 2008, the U.S. state and local child protective services received 3.3 million reports of children being abused or neglected. Seventy-one percent of the children were classified as victims of child neglect.

Child neglect is when parents or caregivers intentionally or unintentionally fail to meet a child's basic physical, emotional, mental, or relational needs. Neglect differs from abuse in that it is about not doing something that's in the child's best interest, whereas abuse is about doing something that is hurtful to a child.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.