Child Crime Prevention & Safety Center

Juveniles and Neglect

Juveniles and NeglectLaw enforcement and child protective services agencies are typically geared towards intervening and protecting children when there is clear evidence of imminent physical harm or sexual abuse. While child abuse through neglect may not be as obvious, the effects on a child can be just as devastating and can cause permanent damage to a child’s physical, emotional and psychological well-being.

What is Child Abuse by Neglect?

There is no universally accepted definition of chronic childhood neglect, however, a child is generally considered to be the victim of neglect when:

  1. One or more of a child’s basic needs are not met.
  2. A parent or caregiver is responsible for the neglect.
  3. The neglect is chronic.

The following are some of the most common forms of neglect that a child may suffer:

  1. Abandonment by a parent or caregiver.

  2. Physical Neglect – Includes failure to provide adequate food, clean or suitable clothing, hygiene, and exposure to unhygienic or unsafe living environments.

  3. Medical Neglect – Failure to provide medical and healthcare. Most states provide exceptions to parents who do not take children to medical providers due to religious beliefs or practices.

  4. Psychological/Emotional Neglect – Depriving a child of emotional support or nurturing.

  5. Developmental Neglect – Failure to recognize or address developmental needs in a child.

  6. Supervisory Neglect – Leaving a child alone for extended periods of time or in locked vehicles.

  7. Guidance Neglect – Exposing children to criminal behavior, drug use or substance abuse or failing to discourage a child’s criminality.

  8. Educational Neglect – Failing to ensure that a child is enrolled in school or otherwise has their educational needs met.

There are several parental characteristics that are closely associated with child neglect, most notably poverty, mental health issues and substance abuse. Of all types of abuse, neglect has the strongest connection to poverty. It may be difficult to determine whether suspected neglect is caused by family poverty or by a simple lack of care or concern. Insufficient knowledge of parenting skills, lack of financial planning education, mental health issues, addiction and parental disabilities are all factors that may contribute to an environment of neglect.

Consequences of Chronic Neglect

Research has shown that children who suffer from neglect experience issues with cognitive and academic development, social withdrawal and internalizing behavior. While single incidents of physical or even sexual abuse may appear more egregious than neglect, studies have shown that the effects of chronic neglect on a child can have lifelong effects on his or her health and wellbeing.

Neglect can cause permanent changes in brain development, including a lack of neural connections that can permanently affect a child’s development. Children who have suffered from chronic neglect can have problems with attachment, cognitive development, emotional self-regulation, self-esteem, problem-solving, empathy and social conscience. A child’s linguistic skills and cognitive abilities may be delayed as a result of the neglect and the effects are more severe the younger a child is and the more prevalent the neglect.

Child Neglect and State Intervention

Child protective services may be alerted by a teacher or care provider who notices a child appears to be suffering the effects of neglect, including being unclean, wearing dirty clothes or appearing malnourished. The agency will perform a home visit and will typically interview parents. The protective agency may create a plan for the parent or caregiver to follow and the parent may be required to take parenting classes. In the more severe cases, the child may be removed from the parent’s custody and can be placed in the home of a suitable family member or be placed into foster care.

In the most severe cases of child neglect, local law enforcement agencies may investigate the parent or caregiver and can refer the case to prosecutorial authorities for criminal filing. Child neglect can lead to felony charges depending on the severity of the neglect and the parent’s criminal history. In the most extreme cases, the parent can be sentenced to prison for acts of neglect that result in death or serious physical harm to a child.