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How to Spot the Signs of Child Neglect

Every year, hundreds of thousands of children in the United States struggle with physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect, psychological maltreatment, or a combination of two or more of these abuses at the hands of their parents or caregivers. According to the US Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families (ACF), 679,000 children were victims of maltreatment in 2013, with nearly four-fifths (79%) of those being victims of neglect.

Neglect is the failure of a caregiver to provide for the basic needs of a child. The ACF lists four types of neglect, including:

  • Physical – ex. failure to provide adequate food or shelter
  • Medical – ex. failure to get a child adequate medical treatment
  • Educational – ex. failure to provide for the necessary education of a child, including circumstances when special education is needed
  • Emotional – ex. neglecting a child’s emotional and developmental needs

These victims need help, and it is up to those who interact with the children to spot the signs of neglect so that something can be done to protect these children. In this blog we will detail some of the common signs that a child is struggling with neglectful parents, guardians, or other caregivers. No single sign is a guarantee that the child is being neglected, but particularly if you notice more than one of these signs, it is probably an indication that someone should at least take a closer look at the situation.

The child is consistently absent or late to school

When a child is regularly late to school or entirely absent from school without some sort of clear reason, such as medical needs, then this is a very clear sign that, at the very least, the child is being educationally neglected. It is the caregiver’s duty to ensure that their dependant is in attendance at school and receives the education he or she is entitled to.

Begging or stealing food, money

Children who are not having their physical needs provided for often engage in theft or begging in order to simply have enough to eat.

Child is often unclean or smells poorly

This is another sign that the physical needs of the child are being neglected. It is an indication that the parent is not washing their child, which can be a serious health hazard.

Lack of medical care, especially after parent has been notified of issue

If the child has a medical issue that clearly needs treatment, and particularly if the parent has been notified of this issue, and no action has been taken, this indicates medical neglect. For example, the child could need glasses and the parent is unwilling to buy them.

Signs of neglect from the parent

You can also look for signs of neglect in the caregivers themselves. A neglectful parent may act apathetic or disinterested in the child, they may behave bizarrely, or they may abuse drugs and alcohol.

Some other possible signs that a child is being neglected could include access to and abuse of drugs and alcohol, as well as simply stating things like “my parents are never home.” Listen closely to children whom you suspect are being abused or neglected, they will usually reach out for help in subtle or sometimes very obvious ways, and it is everyone’s duty to make sure these kids receive help. Through collective vigilance, we can provide aid and support to the hundreds of thousands of young abuse victims in the US.

Author Bio

Vanessa Vasquez de Lara is the founder and owner of Vasquez de Lara Law Group, a Miami family law firm. With over 20 years of experience in family law, she has zealously represented clients in various legal matters, including divorces, child support, child custody, alimony, and other family law cases.

Vanessa received her Juris Doctor from the University of Miami School of Law in 2002 and is a member of the Florida Bar Association. She has received numerous accolades for her work, including being named to the 2015 Super Lawyers Rising Stars and the 2016-2023 Super Lawyers list.

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