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What Is Parental Neglect?

A foster parent may take care of a child until a child's biological parents are able to handle the responsibility.
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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 24 July 2014
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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.

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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.

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