What is Physical Neglect?

May 24, 2021

Physical neglect involves a parent or caregiver failing to provide the basic necessities needed by a child to survive and to thrive. The basics are adequate food, clothing, and shelter. In addition, the child needs to be provided a safe living environment, free of violence and harm.

Physical neglect also encompasses more intangible neglect that exposes a child to high risk of physical harm, such as abandonment and inadequate supervision. A parent leaving their child either alone or in the care of someone else for extended periods of time is also considered physical neglect. In addition, failure to provide needed medical, dental, or psychiatric care can be considered physical neglect.

What is the Impact of Neglect on Children?

Depending on the severity of the neglect and its duration, children can experience malnutrition, severe dehydration, advanced disease states from lack of treatment, and injury from being unsupervised. These impacts can interfere with the child’s ability to develop emotionally, to achieve academically, and to be physically strong.

Neglected children often suffer from low self-esteem and confidence and have difficulty in social interactions with both other children and adults. This can lead to substance abuse, promiscuity, and self-destructive behaviors. Children who are neglected are at high risk of experiencing serious long-term injury to their well-being. These impacts can interfere with the ability to form intimate relationships, sustain long-term employment, and place the adult at increased risk of perpetuating child abuse or neglect when they become a parent.

What are the Indicators of Physical Neglect?

Children can exhibit both visible and behavior signs of physical neglect. These indicators can reveal a pattern of neglect that is persistent because the impacts can readily be seen. Visible signs of physical neglect include conditions of a child, such as:

  • Being dressing inappropriately for weather conditions.
  • Having poor hygiene, such as dirty skin, hair, clothing, malodorous, and unkempt hair.
  • Exhibiting poor health.
  • Showing signs of delayed development, like missing speech or motor skill milestones.

Behavioral indicators may also indicate a child is suffering from physical neglect, including:

  • Hunger, hoarding food, and stealing food.
  • Listlessness, apathy, and depression.
  • Infantile behavior.
  • Anger and anti-social behavior.

What if Someone Suspects Child Abuse or Neglect?

Certain individuals are required by law to report suspected child abuse or neglect to authorities. These include teachers and health care providers. When someone is suspected of physically neglecting a child, they will likely be investigated by their state’s child protective services agency and the police.

If an investigation is substantiated, it means that an investigating agency believes there is enough evidence to support a claim of neglect and can result in a petition being filed in family court. In this case, either temporary or permanent loss of custody could result. If a police investigation uncovers what appears to be evidence of a crime, then the investigation could result in criminal charges being raised against the parent or guardian responsible for the child’s care.

Substantiating Circumstances of Neglect

In New Jersey, conditions that put a child at risk include any of the following:

  • Death or near death of a child as a result of abuse or neglect.
  • Subjecting a child to sexual activity or exposure to inappropriate sexual activity or materials.
  • Infliction of injury or creation of a condition requiring a child to be hospitalized or to receive significant medical attention.
  • Repeated instances of physical abuse.
  • Failure to take reasonable action to protect a child from sexual abuse or repeated instances of physical abuse under circumstances where the parent or guardian knew or should have known that such abuse was occurring.
  • Depriving a child of necessary care, which either caused serious harm or created a substantial risk of serious harm.

What are the Causes of Child Neglect?

Child neglect can be unintentional. A young mother with no experience or help from experienced parents may not understand basic child development and needs. They may fail to understand when feeding and diaper changes are needed. A drug addict or alcoholic may be so impaired by their condition that it renders them unable to properly care for their child and allow them to wander off, ingest drugs or other dangerous items, or be unattended and subject to physical or sexual abuse by others. Poverty can place a parent in a situation where they have to make difficult choices that may include not paying a heating bill, not buying clothes, or skipping meals. Illness can make a parent too sick or weak to provide adequate care.

The New Jersey DCPP agency provides a handbook that explains some of what the agency does and provides contact information for a variety of support services. In other instances, the conduct can be intentionally neglecting or abusing a child. Punishment for physical neglect of a child can be harsh. Depending on the severity of the charge, significant prison time and fines can be imposed, as well as the permanent removal of the child from the home.

There are differences between unintentional and intentional neglect that are important in how the courts deal with the situation. A skilled lawyer will be able to evaluate the facts of the case and assist parents and legal guardians in addressing charges of physical neglect.

Haddonfield DCPP Lawyers at the Law Offices of Theodore J. Baker Help Those Accused of Physically Neglecting a Child

Facing charges of physical neglect of a child can be daunting. The Haddonfield DCPP lawyers at the Law Offices of Theodore J. Baker have extensive experience in handling physical neglect cases, and we can help you with your situation. To schedule an initial, private consultation, complete our online form or call us at 856-795-9400 today. Located in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, we serve clients throughout South Jersey, including Haddonfield, Marlton, Medford, Moorestown, Mount Laurel, and Voorhees.

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