Child neglect is a form of abuse in which the caregiver fails to provide for the child in some way that could result in physical, emotional, psychological, or even educational harm. When most people consider mistreatment of a child, they think of active abuse -- the caregiver hurting or perhaps molesting the child -- but neglect is basically passive abuse. For example, it would be neglect for a parent to leave her young children at home without food for an extended period of time.
Neglect is by far the most common form of child mistreatment in the United States In fact, 78.3 percent of child maltreatment victims suffered neglect, as compared to 18.3 percent who suffered physical abuse and 9.3 percent who suffered sexual abuse. It can be incredibly dangerous. Over 2,200 children in the United States died of abuse and neglect in 2012, and nearly 70 percent of those children died because of neglect. Surviving victims of neglect also experience many psychological issues over time, from attention and language deficits to reduced mental function to lower academic success. As a result, it's absolutely important that children get the help they need to escape neglect situations.
The circumstances of mistreatment can be complicated. Please read ahead to learn more about what would be considered neglect under the law and how it could impact you and your loved ones.
The Different Forms of Neglect
Child neglect can come in many different forms. Below, you'll find explanations of the most common types of neglect.
Physical neglect is the most common form of child neglect, and it involves the failure of a caregiver to provide for the basic physical needs of the child, such as food, shelter, clothing, and even sanitary living conditions. A person can also be found guilty of neglect if he or she abandons the child or fails to properly supervise the child over an extended period of time (usually a matter of days or weeks).
Educational neglect occurs when the caregiver doesn't enroll the child in school or otherwise encourages or allows the child to not attend school. Educational child neglect may be more common among poor families who may want the child to bring in additional income instead of attending school.
Psychological or Emotional Neglect
Psychological/emotional neglect is a bit of a catchall category, and includes a wide variety of behaviors, such as humiliation, insult, failure to provide psychological care, having a lack of affection, ignoring the child's basic attention needs, and threatening serious punishment. Many of these behaviors can be difficult to track because they're simply more extreme versions of behaviors frustrated parents occasionally practice. On the other hand, there are instances of psychological/emotional neglect, such as isolating behavior (not allowing the child to form relationships with other children and adults) and allowing or encouraging the child to use drugs and alcohol, that are more obvious.
Medical neglect is when the caregiver fails to provide needed medical care, either by delaying or outright denying the child the opportunity for treatment. There's a religious exception to this rule in some states. For example, in California, a caregiver can withhold medical care from their sick child and have a priest pray for recovery, and the caregiver would likely not be guilty of neglect -- though courts frequently order medical care in such cases.
What Can You Do?
If you are a witness to child neglect or are aware of ongoing neglect, then you should report the neglect to your local child services authority. In eighteen states, including New Jersey, if you witness or suspect neglect then you are required by law to report the neglect, no matter your profession. If you don't report the neglect, you could be found guilty of a misdemeanor. Remember, you won't get into legal trouble if you report neglect in a case where it's later found that there wasn't neglect, as long as you reported neglect with positive intentions and if there was at least some evidence that neglect was occurring.
State Law Differences
Depending on your state, the applicable laws may vary considerably. In some states, neglect is a separate crime to abuse, though in most other states it's considered part of child abuse. The differences extend to exemptions, too. Many states have exemptions for religion - if a parent fails to provide medical care to his or her child because of their religious belief, then they will not be found guilty of neglect. In Pennsylvania, the law goes even further: extreme poverty will exempt a parent of responsibility for neglect.
Report Child Neglect
Child neglect is a serious issue, perhaps the most serious of the child mistreatment offenses given how widespread and common it is. Reporting neglect is critical to the process of helping neglected children escape these negative situations. Please contact local child services authorities if you suspect a situation of neglect.
Call a Criminal Defense Attorney About Your Charges
Sometimes it's not always clear whether actions amount to child neglect. Each family situation is unique and some accepted practices in the past could border on neglect today. If you or someone you know is worried about criminal charges related to child neglect, it's critical to speak with a qualified criminal defense attorney to understand your rights and the burdens that must be met by law enforcement.