Child neglect is tragic and can have lifelong consequences. In the United States, about five children each day die from maltreatment, according to Childhelp. In over 80 percent of cases, a parent is the one mistreating their child, and in most cases, the perpetrator is someone who knows the child.
In New Jersey, the law defines child neglect as the failure to properly supervise a child or to adequately provide food, shelter, clothing, medical care, or education for a child when the parent or caregiver possesses the financial means to do so. It is also considered neglect if the parent or caregiver allows substantial physical, emotional, or psychological harm or risk of any harm to the child. While there is no way to predict with certainty that a child will suffer neglect or child abuse, there are some common factors that can help identify families and children at risk.
Unemployment can lead to homelessness and social isolation. In this stressful situation, parents can have trouble providing the basics: food, shelter, education, and medical care. With a poor housing situation or no home at all, the children may attend school sporadically or drop out altogether, depriving them of an education.
In situations where violence is present whether in the community or the home, the risk of child neglect increases. In families where the parents themselves were abused, the cycle continues, and they may inflict abuse on their own children. In communities where violence is normalized through the presence of crime, media, violent computer games, or television, children are also at an increased risk of neglect.
Parents or caregivers who are abusing alcohol or drugs are often unable to tend to the needs of their children. As addiction becomes the focus of everything, time and money are diverted from child care needs, and the children end up being neglected. It should also be noted that babies born to mothers who were using drugs or alcohol during pregnancy can have behavioral disorders, difficult personalities, chronic illnesses, or physical disorders that make them more prone to being abused.
Mental Health Issues
Untreated mental illness is a leading cause of child neglect. Conditions such as depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and bipolar disorder can cause a parent or caregiver to withdraw and be unable to provide proper care for the child. Parents with low self-esteem, shame, or feelings of incompetence are also at higher risk of committing child neglect.
Good parenting is a difficult job. While some parents are naturally gifted, for others, it is a skill that must be learned. Studies show that young mothers maltreat their children at higher rates. Adolescent parents may lack the maturity to deal with all the physical and life changes that come with becoming a caregiver to a baby, and younger mothers have more difficulty accessing the resources available to help new families. Understanding the milestones of basic childhood development is also a part of good parenting, as it cannot be expected that a baby or child can perform tasks beyond their cognitive development.
Whether from single parenting, changing jobs, income loss, divorce, or health problems, stress on parents or caregivers without emotional and financial support systems can increase the level of conflict in the home. Stress is a significant factor in child neglect cases.
Behavioral Problems and Physical Illnesses
Sometimes, the risk factor lies with the child, although it cannot be emphasized enough that a child is never responsible for the neglect or abuse it may receive. Babies that cry for extended periods or have feeding problems may be at risk for neglect. Toddlers who are toilet training, who bite, or who are prone to tantrums are also more prone to neglect. In some dysfunctional families, a child whose physical appearance resembles another family member who is held in a negative regard can trigger neglect or abuse by their caregiver. Children with behavioral problems, such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), may be more prone to neglect and abuse because their parents are not equipped with the knowledge to manage their child’s difficult behavior.
Children with chronic illnesses and disabilities are subjected to higher rates of physical abuse, neglect, sexual abuse, and exploitation than their peers. Parents of disabled children have higher levels of stress from providing care and can easily become overwhelmed, especially if they are socially isolated and are struggling in other ways. Children who are physically reliant on caregivers or who cannot express themselves because they have problems speaking or hearing are vulnerable and more at risk for neglect and abuse.
What Are Common Signs of Child Neglect?
There is no one sign that indicates child neglect, but the appearance of a pattern of behavior over time can be a clue that something is not right with a child’s care. Some of the most common signs that a child is being neglected include:
- Poor hygiene.
- Hunger and a frail or thin appearance.
- Poor physical development or growth.
- Lack of proper medical care for illness and infection.
- Lack of supervision resulting in early drop off or late pick up at school.
- Child’s worry about the parent’s whereabouts.
- Behavioral issues such as aggression, antisocial or withdrawn behavior, suicidal thoughts, or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
In New Jersey, adults who suspect a child is being mistreated or abused are obligated to report their suspicions to child protective services or law enforcement officials. The Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCPP) must then open an investigation of the allegations immediately. Child neglect accounts for almost 80 percent of all child abuse investigations carried out by the DCPP. However, those accused of neglect have rights, and they should speak to a lawyer if they are being investigated by the DCPP.
New Jersey DCPP Lawyers at the Law Offices of Theodore J. Baker Provide Experienced Legal Counsel to Those Accused of Child Neglect
Child neglect allegations are serious and can result in the removal of a child from their home. It is vital to consult with one of our experienced New Jersey DCPP lawyers at the Law Offices of Theodore J. Baker if you have been accused of child neglect or abuse. Call us at 856-795-9400 or contact us online to schedule an initial consultation. Located in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, we serve clients throughout South Jersey, including Haddonfield, Marlton, Medford, Moorestown, Mount Laurel, and Voorhees.