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Neglect - Child Neglect and Abuse

Child Abuse Basics


Updated April 07, 2013

Although people usually think of child abuse as someone physically harming a child, it is important to keep in mind that about 60 percent of child abuse cases actually involve neglect.

It is sometimes easier to see the signs of physical abuse when a child is hit, kicked, or burned, but looking for signs of neglect is important too, as the consequences can be just as tragic.


Neglect is usually defined as depriving a child of adequate:

  • food
  • clothing
  • shelter
  • supervision
  • medical care
  • education

By not providing for a child's basic needs, this neglect can result in the child's death, serious physical or emotional harm, exploitation, or may put him at an imminent risk of serious harm.

Signs of Neglect

Signs of neglect might include a child who is:

  • not getting medical attention for a persistent or chronic medical problem, like a cough that lingers for weeks or months, weekly asthma attacks, or untreated skin infections, etc.
  • often playing outside without any supervision
  • left at home without supervision before he feels ready
  • dirty or smells bad (poor hygiene)
  • not usually dressed appropriately for the weather
  • often asking for food or money at school because he is hungry
  • absent from school a lot

A child might also be considered neglected when his emotional needs aren't met and if he doesn't get any love and support at home.

Keep in mind that living in poverty doesn't mean that a child is being neglected, as part of the definition is usually that a child is being neglected despite being financially able to do so or after being offered financial assistance.

Reporting Neglect

Like physical or sexual child abuse, people should report when they think a child is being neglected.

Most states have a child abuse reporting number or hotline that you can use so that child welfare specialists can investigate suspected cases of child abuse or neglect.


National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System. Child Maltreatment 2011. Accessed April 2013. http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/cb/resource/child-maltreatment-2011

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