Neglect

Neglect means failure to provide adequate care to the child in one's custody. It's by far the most common (and the most lethal) form of child abuse, yet the least spoken about. Many people struggle placing "child abuser" label on a parent who didn't mean to harm their child, who struggles with various hardships and failed to do their job as well as they should have. However, visiting one's problems on a child is inappropriate because the child has no remedy: they cannot divorce their parents and live independently. Without adequate care, they get sick or even die; those who survive often suffer serious psychological trauma, chronic physical illnesses, and/or developmental problems, sometimes irreversible. Overcoming parental hardships is a part of being a parent. People who can't afford bare necessities can apply for government assistance or reach out to charities. People who don't know how to maintain a clean house can google tutorials or hire a cleaning lady. People who aren't sure how to care for their child can take parenting classes. At the end of the day, the parents are obligated to either provide appropriate care to their child or surrender him/her to the authorities. Failure to do so constitutes child abuse.

Food

Every child needs clean water and food that is fresh, healthy, and available reliably and unconditionally (i.e. regardless of the child behavior, attitude, grades, chores, or anything else). Some parents might leave their child without dessert or dinner occasionally, as a consequence for misbehavior - that's not neglect as long as the child is free to raid the fridge and make themselves a sandwich later on; they are deprived of family time or optional extras (e.g. ice cream), not of food. If a child is stealing food, hoarding it, begging for it, or eating dog/cat/bird food because that's the only food available - that's neglect.

Shelter

Every child needs a home: not a cardboard box, not a car, not a different motel room every night. The home needs to have clean air, daylight, all the basic amenities: electricity, heat, hot and cold water, functional furniture. The child might or might not have their own room, but they need their own bed, space to do their homework, and space to store their belongings: toys, clothes, school supplies, etc. The child should participate in house chores, but the parents are ultimately responsible for providing adequate living conditions. For example, forcing a child to live in a hoarder house infested with rodents (or expecting them to de-hoard it) is neglect.

Clothing and supplies

Every child needs to have unlimited and unconditional access to toilet paper, soap, toothpaste, feminine products if applicable, and other necessary hygiene items. School supplies need to be available as well: pens, pencils, paper, etc. Parents aren't obligated to provide brand-name clothing to their children, but every child has to have clean, intact, fitting, and weather-appropriate clothes and shoes. This includes winter jacket and boots, underwear, and socks. If a child is wearing flipflops in snow because it's their only pair - that's neglect.

Health and hygiene

Children are not responsible for or capable of maintaining their own health, hygiene, and healthy lifestyle, it's their parent's job. Many chronic illnesses are caused by poor hygiene: lice, scabies, diaper rashes, bedsores, tooth decay, etc. Some are caused by unhealthy lifestyle: obesity, malnourishment, disrupted sleep cycle, etc. Any child can develop any of these problems at one point or another; the line is crossed when they become chronic. It means the parent isn't teaching or enforcing appropriate hygiene and lifestyle habits, which is a form of neglect. Some children struggle with developmental delays, eating disorders, substance abuse, self injury, antisocial behaviors, homicidal or suicidal thoughts, etc. Failure to find professional help for such a child is neglect as well.

Safety

The world is a dangerous place for children, and tragic accidents sometimes happen. The difference between an accident and neglect is that a neglectful parent fails to protect their child from known hazards. For example, if a child doesn't know yet how to safely handle power tools, guns, flammables, poisons, street drugs, prescription medications, etc - the parent needs to keep these items inaccessible to the child, so that they can't accidentally hurt themselves or others. Parents also need to take reasonable precautions so that their child doesn't accidentally run into traffic, drown in a swimming pool, fall off a cliff, get heat stroke or hypothermia, etc. Knowingly placing your child in harm's way is child abuse as well; for example, leaving your child in a locked car, bringing home violent boyfriends or sex offenders, or involving your child in criminal activities.

Education

By the time children reach the age of maturity, they need to be capable of living independently (disabled children need to be receiving appropriate care and treatment), and become contributing members of society. This goal involves various skills that the child needs to develop during their stay with their parents. Parents are responsible for ensuring this process, keeping their child on track, and providing opportunities for the child to master the skills they should be mastering at their age. For example, 4-5yo children are learning balance and coordination, so their parents have to take them to a playground, jungle gym, buy them a tricycle, etc. A child whose parents neglected this responsibility will survive and adopt, but is likely to grow up into a clumsy person with fear of heights and inferiority complex. For another example, while most teenagers don't enjoy house chores, allowing them to ditch this responsibility (e.g. by cleaning after them) is a form of neglect as well, because it hinders their ability to learn the skill.


Many abusive parents tell their children that they should be grateful for what they have, that, if not for the parents, the child would starve to death, sleep outside in rain, etc. That's a lie. All children are guaranteed their basic rights and needs, as per the Geneva Convention. Children are the most valuable thing we have as a human race, so if a parent is unable or unwilling to take care of their child, society takes over. No child would starve to death in a western country, unless someone deliberately causes it and hides this situation from the authorities. Child neglect is a crime.


The worst form of inequality is to try to make unequal things equal.
~ Aristotle
This page was last updated on July 21st, 2017
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