In the context of caregiving, neglect is a form of abuse where the perpetrator, who is responsible for caring for someone who is unable to care for themselves, fails to do so. It can be a result of carelessness, indifference, or unwillingness and abuse.
Neglect can carry on in a child's life falling into many long-term side effects, including physical injuries, developmental trauma disorder, low self-esteem, attention disorders, violent behavior, and death.
Studies of neglected children show heightened levels of depression and hopelessness, and higher incidents of suicide attempts.
There are various types of child neglect:
- Supervisory- Guardian or parent of child is unable or unwilling to display acceptable supervision or control over the child or young person. e.g. leaving the child alone for long periods of time.
- Physical- Basic physical needs are not met due to the child not being provided with food, water, clothing, shelter, inadequate hygiene, etc.
- Medical- Refusal or delay in child receiving needed medical care.
- Educational- Guardian or parent fails to ensure that the child receives formal education, e.g. attending school, ensuring special needs requirements are met.
- Emotional- Guardian or parent give inadequate nurturing or affection. The parent or guardian fails to create an environment where the child feels secure, loved, wanted, worthy, etc.
Child neglect can also be described by degrees of severity and the responses considered warranted by communities and government agencies.
- Mild neglect is the least likely to be perceived as neglect by the child, but raises the possibility of harm in ways that need intervention by the community. An example might be a parent who does not use a proper car safety seat.
- Moderate neglect occurs when some harm to the child has occurred. An example might be a child repeatedly dressed inappropriately for the weather (e.g. shorts in winter.) In cases of moderate harm, governmental agencies might be called in to assist parents.
- Severe neglect occurs over time and results in significant harm to the child. An example might be a child with asthma being denied treatment.
The causes of child neglect are complex and can be attributed to three different levels: an intrapersonal, an inter-personal/family, and a social/economic level. Although the causes of neglect are varied, studies suggest that, amongst other things, parental mental health problems, substance use, domestic violence, unemployment, and poverty are factors which increase the likelihood of neglect. Children that result from unintended pregnancies are more likely to suffer from abuse and neglect. They are also more likely to live in poverty. Neglectful families often experience a variety or a combination of adverse factors.
In terms of who is reported for neglectful behavior, it is most often women. Often parents who neglect their children are single parents or disabled mothers who already have to care for themselves, and therefore the child is an additional stress.
Early intervention programs and treatments in developed countries include individual counselling, family, group counselling and social support services, behavioural skills training programs to eliminate problematic behaviour and teach parents "appropriate" parenting behaviour. There are a variety of ways in which children can act in response to an experience of neglect. Some children attempt to talk about the neglect to their parents. In some cases the parents may respond aggressively or abusively to such attempts to resolve the issue. Some children steal money from their parents' purses in order to feed themselves. Babies are too young to ameliorate parental neglect, however in some cases siblings will step in and take care of them.