Child neglect is the most common form of child maltreatment, comprising more than 75 percent of victims.  It is usually defined by omissions in care that may result in significant harm or the risk of significant harm and is characterized by the failure of a parent or caregiver to provide for the child’s basic needs.  Examples of neglect include:

  • Physical, such as the failure to provide necessary food, shelter, or supervision
  • Medical, such as the failure to provide necessary medical or mental health treatment
  • Educational, such as the failure to educate a child or attend to his or her special education needs
  • Emotional, such as inattention to a child’s emotional needs or psychological care or letting the child use alcohol or drugs

Sometimes cultural values, the standards of care in the community, and poverty may be contributing factors in what is considered neglect and how child protective service agencies respond.  State laws often exclude charges of neglect when a parent or caregiver cannot meet a child’s needs because of poverty or an inability to provide.  When a family fails to use information and resources, and the child's health or safety is at risk, child welfare intervention may be required.

The issue of medical neglect can sometimes be complicated.  The Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA), in part, defines the withholding of medically indicated treatment as the “failure to respond to the infant's life-threatening conditions by providing treatment…which, in the treating physician's reasonable medical judgment, will be most likely to be effective in ameliorating or correcting all such conditions.”  Many states, as allowed by CAPTA, provide an exception to this definition of neglect for parents who choose not to seek medical care for their children due to religious beliefs that may prohibit medical intervention.