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Child Maltreatment - Neglect

What is child neglect?

Child neglect is a form of mistreatment that occurs when a person does not provide needed care to a child. A child is anyone younger than 18 years old. Child neglect includes not giving a child his basic needs, such as food, clothing, shelter, proper education, and guidance. Child neglect may also include abandoning or not providing supervision for the child. It can also include lack of medical care, such as immunizations, treatments, or giving the wrong amount of medicine.

What increases a child's risk of neglect?

Poor, violent, or crowded living conditions may be one of the reasons neglect occurs. The following are other possible causes and conditions that may increase a child's risk of neglect:

  • Risks related to the child:

    • The child has learning or memory problems.

    • The child has a long-term condition or special needs.

    • The child has no relatives or friends who can take care of him.

  • Risks related to people the child is around:

    • The child has a single or teenaged parent.

    • The child is around someone who drinks alcohol or uses drugs.

    • The child is around someone who has a history of family violence, such as physical or sexual abuse.

    • The child is around someone who has a personality disorder, depression, or another mental illness.

    • The child is around someone who has stress due to work or financial problems.

What are the signs and symptoms of child neglect?

  • Frequent absences from school

  • Begging or stealing

  • Hunger or dehydration

  • Depression or a worsening health condition

  • Lack of dental care or immunizations

  • Poor hygiene, such as wearing dirty clothes or having body odor, lice, or untreated wounds

  • Weight loss or poor growth

How is child neglect diagnosed?

The child's caregiver will examine the child. He will ask about other health conditions and if his vaccinations are current. He may want to talk to you, the child, or others who care for the child to get more information about the kind of neglect that has occurred. He may ask if the child has been eating, taking medicines, and given clothing. Caregivers may also want to know who is neglecting the child, and how long the neglect has been happening. The child may need to take tests or answer written questions so his caregiver can learn more about his condition. The child may also need any of the following:

  • Blood and urine tests may show infection, dehydration, or be used get information about the child's overall health.

  • X-rays may be done to see if any bones have been broken or are displaced. X-rays of the child's chest and abdomen may also be taken.

  • A CT scan , or CAT scan, is a type of x-ray that takes pictures of the child's body to show if there are internal injuries. The child may be given a dye before the pictures are taken to help caregivers see the pictures better. Tell the caregiver if the child has ever had an allergic reaction to contrast dye.

How is child neglect treated?

A child who has been neglected may be placed in a daycare center or foster home. Special services may be offered to ensure a child's safety and health. Treatment may also include any of the following:

  • Counseling may help the child feel less scared, depressed, or anxious. The child's caregiver may suggest that the child see a counselor to help him with how he feels.

  • Wound care or surgery may be needed to treat injuries, wounds, or other health conditions.

What are the risks of child neglect?

If the child is placed in a foster home or care, it may be hard for him to be away from his family or friends. Counseling may be emotionally difficult and painful. If child neglect is not stopped or treated, the child's hygiene, nutrition, or health may get worse. The child may have changes in his behavior and school performance, and he may develop other serious problems. These include running away from home, alcohol or drug use, depression, and problems with self-esteem, moods, and relationships.

How can I care for a child victim of neglect?

  • Let the child rest if he needs to. Tell the child's caregiver if the child has trouble sleeping.

  • Give the child healthy foods to eat. Healthy foods include fruits, vegetables, whole-grain breads, low-fat dairy products, beans, lean meats, and fish. Ask if the child needs to be on a special diet. A dietitian may talk to you, the child, family members, or other people who care for the child about helping him get the right nutrition.

  • Report child neglect. It may be hard to report neglect of children, but it is very important. Caregivers can help the child if he is at risk for or is a victim of neglect. Caregivers are required by law to report suspected child neglect. The child may need to leave his current living situation and be placed in foster care to provide needed care.

When should I contact the child's caregiver?

  • The child has problems eating or gaining weight.

  • The child is sad or depressed most of the time.

  • The child has new signs and symptoms.

  • You have questions or concerns about the child's condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care or call 911?

  • The child feels like hurting himself or someone else.

  • The child feels that he cannot cope with the neglect, or his recovery from it.

  • The child has trouble breathing, chest pain, or a fast heartbeat.

  • The child has trouble sleeping.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your child's care. Learn about your child's health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your child's caregivers to decide what care you want for your child. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2015 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

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