Defining Medical Neglect in Children

Physical neglect in children is more recognized due to the apparent visibility. The same can go for medical neglect, which is why the two are typically associated when discussing neglect. However, medical neglect deserves distinction due to its handling in the health care setting. As outlined in the Nursing Approach to Child Maltreatment 2E, here are some basic facts and definitions about medical neglect.


Medical neglect encompasses several different aspects related to child care. On a base level, this includes failure to recognize signs of physical injury, medical illness, or mental health that are obvious; delay in seeking assistance at a reasonable point in an acute illness; and bringing the neglected child to a health care setting only when the child is seriously ill or near death.

When it comes to children with chronic illness, medical neglect includes conducting medical therapies that are not followed per health care instructions, not filling medical prescriptions, and not giving the prescribed doses. If a child misses an excessive amount of school due to chronic illness, this also falls under the category of medical neglect.

Additionally, refusing care for treatable illness that place the child at risk is considered medical neglect. The most common examples are failure to immunize children for preventable diseases and avoiding treatment with traditional medical care due to religious or cultural belief.


According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, several factors influence medical neglect. Financial limitations, such as poverty or lack of access to care, keep parents from taking their children to health care facilities. Lack of awareness, knowledge, and parental health literacy are also impacting factors. Other factors include misunderstanding of different cultures, lack of trust in health care professionals, and lack of communication in the health care settings.

In a health care setting, certain factors need to be assessed to determine if health complications fall under the category of abuse. This includes timeliness for routine care, response to symptoms, adherence to filling prescriptions and follow-up visits to other providers, and caregiver concern and interest during evaluation. Health care professionals also need to keep in mind dental care or neglect in children.

If you are a health care professional who works with children, consider our textbook for more information on child neglect and other ways abuse presents itself in the health care setting. For more information on what we do, visit our website or subscribe to our newsletter.


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