Wednesday, April 25, 2007

What Is Child Neglect?

Our fourth type of child abuse, child neglect, is actually the type of abuse that is most commonly reported to the authorities. Of all of the legitimate cases of abuse reported, neglect cases make up about 63%.

There are four basic types of neglect.

The first is physical neglect, in which the child's basic survival needs are not adequately met. Unlike physical abuse, a person who physically neglects a child is not necessarily injuring the child... they are simply failing to care for the child. Some examples of physical neglect include not feeding the child, not bathing the child, abandoning the child, leaving the child without adequate supervision, kicking the child out of the home, etc. Although the parent doesn't actively injure the child, a neglected child can easily get hurt due to lack of supervision, or get sick due to lack of care. I once knew a 3-year-old who accidentally set his 5-year-old sister on fire while they were playing with the stove, while their mother and her boyfriend slept in another room. While the parents in this case didn't strike out at their children, the children got hurt because they weren't being taken care of.

Then there is educational neglect. This is where a parent does not provide for a child's educational needs. It includes allowing a child to have chronic truancies from school, failing to enroll a child in school, or keeping a child home from school consistently for one's own reasons (such as keeping a 12-year-old home from school twice a week to care for a younger sibling while a parent works!) A parent who homeschools a child is not educationally neglecting the child, as long as they are somehow making sure the child is being educated.

Next is medical neglect. Medical neglect occurs when a parent does not provide a child medical care, even though the parent is financially able to pay for medical care. In the case of parents who choose not to get medical attention for their children because of religious beliefs, this is usually not considered neglect, but if the child's life is in danger without medical attention, some states can get an emergency court order to provide medical care.

Finally, there is emotional neglect. Emotional neglect can overlap with emotional abuse, which we recently learned about in this blog. However, while emotional abuse usually includes a parent saying or doing something to emotionally hurt a child, emotional neglect is when a parent fails to do things that would provide emotional support or guidance to a child. For instance, a parent who allows a child to use alcohol or do drugs, parents who allow their child to witness chronic or extreme spousal abuse, or parents who do not allow their child to get necessary psychological care (for instance, if a child is going through serious depression or anxiety problems and the parents refuse to let him get help). For infants, emotional neglect would also include failing to hold or touch the child in a loving way. Infants who are emotionally neglected can develop failure to thrive, a condition that can make them very sick and can even kill them.

In the next few days we'll learn more about child neglect, including what isn't child neglect! Stay tuned!

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