Defining Physical and Emotional Child Neglect

On our blog, we’ve covered physical and emotional child abuse. However, the difference between abuse and neglect is distinctive. While abuse and maltreatment are interchangeable, neglect is failure to provide basic needs or failure to intervene when necessary. Featured in our Nursing Approach to the Evaluation of Child Maltreatment 2nd Edition, these types of neglect are defined and further explained.

Physical Neglect

Physical neglect usually comes from the home and is the best example of how neglect includes failure to provide for basic needs, including nutrition, shelter, and hygiene. Some examples include:

  • Avoidable hazards in the home that are ignored or left in the open
  • Inadequate nutrition, clothing, or hygiene
  • Disregard of child safety and welfare (ie, driving with the child while intoxicated)

Indicators of physical neglect, which can be best detected in health care settings, include:

  • A child reporting hunger, missing meals, or preparing their own meals
  • Clothing that is too small or is not appropriate for the weather
  • Filth and unkempt appearance

Emotional Neglect

There is a variety of emotional neglect, which includes:

  • Refusal and delay of psychological care, which is especially neglectful if there are clear signs of mental instability, severe depression or suicide attempts
  • Encouraging or permitting use of drugs, alcohol, or both, which also includes parental knowledge of a related problem with no action taken to stop it
  • Encouraging or permitting maladaptive behavior in which there is no attempt by the parent or guardian to intervene
  • Inadequate nuturance or affection and exposure to extreme abuse (including violence with an intimate partner)

Additionally, there are other types of child neglect that often don’t come to mind when child neglect is considered, including medical neglect, custody-related neglect, and educational neglect, which are also covered in our Nursing Approach 2E textbook.

Nurses, pediatricians, or anyone in the medical field who deal with children on a regular basis have a responsibility to recognize the signs of neglect in children. Our Nursing Approach 2E textbook not only teaches nurses how to respond when presented with these types of neglect, but it also outlines how valuable their role is in the prevention of child abuse.

If you are someone who helps those who have experienced abuse, maltreatment, or neglect, our books can offer valuable information to you in your work. For more information on what we do, check out our website or subscribe to our newsletter.


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