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Neglect Child Abuse – Definition

Neglect Child Abuse – Definition

Neglect is failure to provide for a child’s or youth’s basic needs: food, clothing, adequate shelter, supervision and medical care. Neglect is the form of abuse most frequently reported where our children are not getting their physical and emotional needs met.

Neglect occurs when the child’s basic needs aren’t being met is often chronic, and it usually involves repeated incidents. It involves failing to provide what a child needs for his or her physical, psychological or emotional development and well-being. Neglect is any lack of care that causes serious harm to a child’s development or endangers the child in any way.

Physical neglect – failing to provide a child with:

  • Inadequate food
  • Clothing
  • Shelter
  • Cleanliness
  • Medical care
  • Protection from harm
  • Emotional neglect – failing to provide a child with:
  • The need for love
  • Being wanted
  • Feeling safe
  • A sense of worth

Signs of Child Neglect


Older children might not show outward signs of neglect, becoming used to presenting a competent face to the outside world, and even taking on the role of the parent. But at the end of the day, neglected children are not getting their physical and emotional needs met.

Neglect is any lack of care that causes serious harm to a child’s development or endangers the child in any way. Physical neglect is the failure to meet the child’s day-today physical needs. This includes failing to provide adequate nutrition, clothing, shelter, health care and protection from harm.

Child neglect in any form, when it concerns a child’s welfare, is generally considered to be criminal behaviour. Child neglect is considered as a possible diagnosis for children who are poorly cared for, not fed properly, improperly clothed, denied basic necessities, denied proper medical care, or treated with indifference to a degree that appears to cause damage or suffering.

Parents, caregivers, and guardians of children must seek help from medical and social services in situations in which children have less-than-adequate care. Children can develop long-term medical and developmental problems from such neglect.

Failure to continue to get help for a child who is not doing well or who is improperly cared for may be interpreted as another form of neglect. This can result in criminal action or action by child protective services that may result in children being removed from the home and placed in foster care. These efforts to seek help often falls on agencies that are fundamentally incapable of providing help due to lack of money and resources. Many social service agencies have been progressively more handicapped by government policies that reflect less empathy for struggling parents. This can be frustrating and exasperating. These feelings can lead to giving up efforts to get help. This sense of futility must be overcome and continued efforts expended either through repeated requests or by seeking out other people who may be able to help (family and friends). Trying to get help is looked on in a positive way by authorities even if the agencies and people you ask are unable to help you.

Indicators of Neglectful Abuse


“Neglected Child” means a child less than 18 years of age whose physical, mental or emotional condition has been impaired or is in danger of becoming impaired as a result of the failure of the child’s legal guardian to exercise a minimum degree of care in supplying the child with adequate food, clothing, shelter, or education or medical care. Neglect also occurs when the legal guardian fails to provide the child with proper supervision or guardianship by allowing the child to be harmed, or to be at risk of harm which includes when the guardian misuses drugs or alcohol him/herself.

 Observable Indicators

  • dirty skin
  • offensive body odor
  • unwashed, uncombed hair
  • tattered, under or oversized and unclean clothing
  • dressed in clothing that is inappropriate to weather or situation
  • frequently left unsupervised or alone for periods of time

(Note: This is the most frequent cause of child death and should not be minimized)

Indicators of Poor Health

  • drowsiness, easily fatigued
  • puffiness under the eyes
  • frequent untreated upper respiratory infections
  • itching, scratching, long existing skin eruptions
  • frequent diarrhea
  • bruises, lacerations or cuts that are infected
  • untreated illnesses
  • physical complaints not responded to by parent

Indicators of Malnutrition

  • begging for or stealing food
  • frequently hungry
  • rummaging through garbage pails for food
  • gorging self, eating in large gulps
  • hoarding food
  • obesity
  • overeating junk foods

 Indicators in Infants and Toddlers

  • listlessness
  • poor responsiveness
  • does not often smile, cry, laugh, play, relate to others
  • lacks interest, curiosity
  • rocks, bangs head, sucks hair, thumb, finger,
  • tears at body
  • is overly self-stimulating, self-comforting
  • does not turn to parent for help or comfort
  • hospitalization for failure to thrive – regresses upon return to home
  • unduly over or under active for no apparent purpose

Indicators in Children

  • cries easily when hurt even slightly
  • comes to school without breakfast
  • has no lunch or lunch money
  • needs dental care, glasses
  • falls asleep in class
  • often seems in a fog or dream world
  • comes to school early, does not want to go home
  • sees self as failure
  • troublesome at school
  • does no homework, refuses to try
  • destroys completed written work
  • destroys books, assignments and learning aids or toys
  • is withdrawn, overactive, underactive and/or lethargic (depressed)
  • is cruel to classmates
  • lies, steals from classmates, school
  • breaks objects or damages school property
  • frequently absent or late for school

 Indicators with Parents and Family

  • promises but does not follow up on recommendations
  • fails to keep appointments and/or refuses help from school or other resources
  • abuses alcohol or other drugs
  • lifestyle of relative isolation from relatives, friends
  • history of abuse or neglect as a child
  • disorganized, chaotic home life
  • history of chronic illness
  • gives impression of resignation and feeling that nothing makes much difference anyway
  • failure to provide supervision of children (This is the most frequent cause of child death and should not be minimized)


(Note: again, any one of these indicators could be attributable to a specific life event or other trauma. A pattern of behaviour is the strongest indicator of abuse and should not be ignored.)

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