Child neglect is defined as any confirmed or suspected egregious act or omission by a parent or other caregiver that deprives a child of basic age-appropriate needs and thereby results, or has reasonable potential to result, in physical or psychological harm. Younger children are neglected most, and more girls suffer from neglect than boys.
Child neglect encompasses abandonment; lack of appropriate supervision; failure to attend to necessary emotional or psychological needs; and failure to provide necessary education, medical care, nourishment, shelter, and/or clothing.
Neglect is usually typified by an ongoing pattern of inadequate care that may be readily observed by individuals in close contact with a child. School personnel, for example, may detect indicators of neglect such as poor hygiene, low weight gain, inadequate medical care, or frequent absences.
According to United States Department of Health and Human Services tracking, reported rates of neglect in the U.S. are higher than those for other types of child maltreatment. In 2016, reports indicated that there were at least 672,000 maltreated children in the U.S., and 7 children per 1,000 were reported victims of neglect, compared with 1.7 per 1,000 for physical abuse, 0.8 for sexual abuse, and 0.5 for psychological or emotional abuse. While reported rates of other types of child maltreatment have declined significantly in recent years, rates of neglect have not. From 1990 to 2016, rates of substantiated physical abuse declined by 40 percent and rates of substantiated sexual abuse declined by 62 percent, while rates of substantiated neglect fell by just 8 percent. Among all maltreated children, the proportion with reported neglect increased from 49 percent in 1990 to 75 percent in 2016, while the proportion with reported sexual abuse declined from 17 to 9 percent and the proportion with reported physical abuse declined from 27 to 18 percent. For these reasons, advocates believe neglect merits more attention from researchers, legislators, and clinicians. One challenge is that, because it is an act of omission, neglect can often be difficult to identify.