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What is Parental Neglect?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 16, 2024
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Parental neglect may be differently defined depending on the region in which a person lives. It should be noted that neglect if often a legal definition. Neglecting a child from a parent’s point of view might have different definitions that do not meet legal tests and are not necessarily criminal or civil offenses. For instance, getting distracted on the phone and failing to realize a two-year old has bumped her head might not be neglect legally, though it could make the parent feel bad for not being more attentive.

Instead, when parental neglect is legally defined, it usually involves continuous acts of neglectful behavior that fail to properly take care of a child. There are exceptions; one act of leaving a baby in a car for any extended period might be considered neglect, child endangerment, or potentially murder. Some of the more continuous acts of parental neglect could include failing to provide proper nutrition for children or not getting them medical care when they are very ill.

There is always a gray area. A person with strong religious belief in faith healing might be excluded from a charge of parental neglect if they don’t take a child to a hospital for traditional medicine. A similar case might occur when people don’t send their children to school. Neglectful behavior might be defined as not providing appropriate education in some regions, but if the parent homeschools in any manner, they wouldn’t be neglectful.

Another area of parental neglect is not providing supervision that is appropriate. This could mean leaving a child home that is too young, and the age defined as “too young” varies, as does length of time a child might be left alone It could also mean not paying attention to a child’s supervisory needs when at home with a child. Usually the neglectful behavior has to be such that it creates physical or emotional risk to the child.

Placing children in situations where they can be physically or sexually abused constitutes extreme parental neglect. Leaving a child with a known sex offender for babysitting, or keeping them in any situation where they are likely to be physically or emotionally injured can be a criminal act. The parent is endangering the child in these circumstances in ways that may impact them for life.

There are many people that might be charged with parental neglect. Anyone who is a caretaker for a child in a parental way like parent, foster parent, step-parent or possessing other guardianship may face neglect charges if they fail to properly see to the needs of children. Unfortunately, many times children are routinely neglected without charges ever being brought against their caretakers. The laws help to prosecute parents after the fact and remove children from neglectful situations, but by then children may have already endured serious harm.

MyLawQuestions is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a MyLawQuestions contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By stoneMason — On Aug 08, 2014

We had a neighbor who used to leave her five year old and seven year old at home all alone when she went to work. And she would lock the door so that the kids wouldn't leave. One of our neighbors finally called the police and she's not allowed to do that anymore.

By literally45 — On Aug 07, 2014

@Phaedrus-- That is sad but I'm sure that those children are much better off now. Children need to be in an environment where all of their basic needs are met. And that's not enough, there also needs to be affection and responsibility. Unfortunately, some parents cannot provide their children these. It's okay for children to be sent to a home where they will receive these. No one would like to see a family break apart, but children's physical and psychological health comes first.

By bluedolphin — On Aug 07, 2014

I read about the worst case of parental neglect ever just the other day. It was about a Chinese couple who had left their infant at home for days in order to play video games at an internet cafe. The baby basically starved to death. The saddest and most ironic part was that the video game was about raising a baby. It's just unbelievable what some parents do.

Why have children if you have no interest in caring for them?

By Phaedrus — On Aug 06, 2014

When I was in elementary school, I witness a case of parental neglect. This girl in my class came to school wearing the same dirty dress just about every day, and she needed to borrow lunch money from the teacher. She would only speak to a few of us, and sometimes she wouldn't speak at all. She showed a lot of the signs of child abuse, but she never said anything about her parents.

I think my teacher was the one who called Child Protective Services after the girl came in with bruises on one side of her face. The situation turned out to be more serious than we thought, and it actually became a local news story. Her parents had five other children, and they were all in the same condition. The father apparently suffered from paranoid schizophrenia, and the mother was also severely abused by him. They were both charged with parental neglect, and the children were put into foster care in another city. It was a really sad situation.

By AnswerMan — On Aug 06, 2014

I know in my area the judges are more likely to send neglectful parents to parenting classes instead of jail. Sometimes a younger parent just doesn't understand how his or her actions could be considered parental neglect by others. Obviously there are some parents who knowingly abuse their children, but others just don't have the experience they need to raise children properly.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a MyLawQuestions contributor, Tricia...
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