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Child neglect and emotional maltreatment

Erin E Endom, MD
Section Editors
Daniel M Lindberg, MD
Teresa K Duryea, MD
Deputy Editor
James F Wiley, II, MD, MPH


Child maltreatment is intentional harm or threat of harm to a child by a person who is acting in the role of caretaker [1]. Four categories of child maltreatment are commonly described: physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, and child neglect. Child neglect and emotional abuse will be reviewed here. Physical abuse and sexual abuse are discussed separately. (See appropriate topic reviews).


Child neglect is the most prevalent form of child abuse, accounting for more than one-half of cases reported to child protection services [2-5]. Child neglect is defined by the National Center of Child Abuse and Neglect as failure to provide for a child's basic physical, emotional, educational, or medical needs [2,6]. Specific types of neglect are defined as follows:

Physical neglect – Failure to provide adequate food, clothing, shelter, hygiene, protection; inadequate supervision with risk of harm to the child.

Emotional neglect – Failure to provide love, affection, security, and emotional support; failure to provide psychological care when needed; spouse abuse in presence of the child. (See "Intimate partner violence: Childhood exposure".)

Educational neglect – Failure to enroll the child in school or ensure school attendance or home schooling; failure to address specific educational needs.

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Literature review current through: Dec 2017. | This topic last updated: Oct 19, 2017.
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