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hild neglect is the most common type of child maltreatment.
Unfortunately, neglect frequently goes unreported and, historically, has not been acknowledged or publicized as greatly as child abuse. Even professionals often have given less attention to child neglect than to abuse.
One study found that caseworkers indicated that they were least likely to substantiate referrals for neglect.
How neglect is defined shapes the response to it. Since the goal of defining neglect is to protect children and to improve their well-being—not to blame the parents or caregivers—definitions help determine if an incident or a pattern of behavior qualifies as neglect, its seriousness or duration, and, most importantly, whether or not the child is safe.
In some respects, it is understandable why violence against children has commanded more attention than neglect. Abuse often leaves visible bruises and scars, whereas the signs of neglect tend to be less visible. However, the effects of neglect can be just as detrimental. In fact, some studies have shown that neglect may be more detrimental to children’s early brain development than physical or sexual abuse.
The debate over a definition of neglect centers on a lack of consensus in answering these questions:
What are the minimum requirements associated with caring for a child?
What action or inaction by a parent or other caregiver constitutes neglectful behavior?
Must the parent’s or caregiver’s action or inaction be intentional?
What impact does the action or inaction have on the health, safety, and well-being of the child?
What constitutes “failure or inability to provide” adequate food, shelter, protection, or clothing?
Should “failure or inability to protect” be included?
Is the action or inaction a result of poverty rather than neglect?