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Understanding the Six Types of Neglect

Understanding the Six Types of Neglect

When you think of a neglected child, you probably imagine a child without sufficient food, clothing, or shelter. Many people (even professionals) often have that misconception due to a poor federal definition of child neglect and a predominant focus on abuse instead of neglect in research. Insufficient access to food, shelter, and clothing is just one of six types of neglect. As an educator or professional who works with children, understanding the six types of neglect can help you better recognize and respond to the neglect that the children in your care may experience.

In their book The Neglected Child, authors Ginger Welch, Laura Wilhelm, and Heather Johnson describe and define the six types of neglect:

  1. Physical Neglect or Deprivation of Needs Neglect
    This type of neglect occurs when children's basic physical needs (e.g., food, shelter, and clothing) are not being met and often occurs in a persistent pattern. Examples of physical deprivation include being denied food and/or water and being left out in the elements.
  2. Medical Neglect
    When medical neglect occurs, children are denied the medical care they need to treat a condition or prevent an illness from worsening. A child may be repeatedly refused medical care for an ongoing condition or may only be denied for a one-time instance of required medical care. Failing to secure medical attention for an injured child or withholding care with the intent to cause death are both examples of medical neglect.
  3. Supervisory Neglect
    Supervisory neglect occurs when the adult responsible for a child either fails to supervise and keep the child from being harmed or fails to have someone else supervise the child and keep him or her from harm. This type of neglect can occur continually or only happen one time. Two examples of supervisory neglect include failing to supervise a child around weapons and other dangerous circumstances and leaving a child with an impaired caregiver.
  4. Environmental Neglect
    The fourth type of neglect is related to both physical neglect and supervisory neglect, but it occurs when children's home environments are filthy. Rotting food may be left out, there may be infestations of rats or cockroaches, and children may regularly come to school in dirty clothing. Some professionals group environmental neglect with physical neglect.
  5. Educational Neglect
    Educational neglect is when children are not given access to education. Examples of educational neglect include parents failing to register children for school or parents making children stay home from school to ensure that they don't report the abuse they experience at home.
  6. Emotional Neglect
    Emotional neglect occurs when children are deprived of their emotional needs (forming secure, positive attachments with adults). Some researchers group emotional neglect with other types of neglect. Parents may struggle to meet children's emotional needs due to a variety of reasons, such as depression or drug and alcohol abuse. A few examples of emotional neglect include humiliating a child, rejecting a child, or giving bizarre forms of punishment.

Keep in mind that neglect impacts the overall development and health of children, so it's important that you do everything you can to recognize, respond, and prevent neglect. The authors of The Neglected Child recommend that educators memorize this statement: "If it SEEMED like neglect, report it." Each letter in SEEMED stands for one type of neglect and will help you remember what to look for as you work with the children in your care. For additional information about the six types of neglect and other related issues, read The Neglected Child. Be sure to also check out our Responding to Child Abuse and Neglect resource page and our selection of social-emotional materials.

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