Child Neglect Law and Legal Definition

Child neglect is a form of child abuse. It occurs when a person who is responsible for the child fails to care for the minor’s emotional or physical needs. Neglect involves not meeting children's basic needs: physical, medical, educational, and emotional. Emotional neglect is a part of emotional abuse.

Some factors that contribute to child neglect and abuse are poverty, drug and alcohol abuse, mental health disorders, and single parenthood. Doctors, nurses, social workers, parent, step parent, guardian or any other person who has responsibility for the care or treatment of the minor are required by law to promptly report cases of suspected child neglect or abuse to a peace officer or local child welfare departments or agencies. The local child welfare departments investigate reports of child neglect. In severe cases, criminal charges can be filed against a person suspected of child neglect.

Child neglect is the most prevalent form of child maltreatment in the United States.

Example of a state statute defining Neglect

A.R.S. § 8-201[Arizona revises statutes, Title 8 Children]


22. "Neglect" or "neglected" means:

(a) The inability or unwillingness of a parent, guardian or custodian of a child to provide that child with supervision, food, clothing, shelter or medical care if that inability or unwillingness causes unreasonable risk of harm to the child's health or welfare, except if the inability of a parent, guardian or custodian to provide services to meet the needs of a child with a disability or chronic illness is solely the result of the unavailability of reasonable services.

(b) Permitting a child to enter or remain in any structure or vehicle in which volatile, toxic or flammable chemicals are found or equipment is possessed by any person for the purposes of manufacturing a dangerous drug as defined in section 13-3401.

(c) A determination by a health professional that a newborn infant was exposed prenatally to a drug or substance listed in section 13-3401 and that this exposure was not the result of a medical treatment administered to the mother or the newborn infant by a health professional. This subdivision does not expand a health professional's duty to report neglect based on prenatal exposure to a drug or substance listed in section 13-3401 beyond the requirements prescribed pursuant to section 13-3620, subsection E. The determination by the health professional shall be based on one or more of the following:

(i) Clinical indicators in the prenatal period including maternal and newborn presentation.

(ii) History of substance use or abuse.

(iii) Medical history.

(iv) Results of a toxicology or other laboratory test on the mother or the newborn infant.

(d) Diagnosis by a health professional of an infant under one year of age with clinical findings consistent with fetal alcohol syndrome or fetal alcohol effects.

(e) Deliberate exposure of a child by a parent, guardian or custodian to sexual conduct as defined in section 13-3551 or to sexual contact, oral sexual contact or sexual intercourse as defined in section 13-1401, bestiality as prescribed in section 13-1411 or explicit sexual materials as defined in section 13-3507.

(f) Any of the following acts committed by the child's parent, guardian or custodian with reckless disregard as to whether the child is physically present:

(i) Sexual contact as defined in section 13-1401.

(ii) Oral sexual contact as defined in section 13-1401.

(iii) Sexual intercourse as defined in section 13-1401.

(iv) Bestiality as prescribed in section 13-1411.