Child neglect and psychological abuse

Child neglect and psychological abuse


Child neglect, also called psychological abuse, is a form of child abuse. It occurs when someone intentionally does not provide the child of the necessities of life, or does so with reckless disregard for the child's well being. Such necessities include food and water for healthy growth, shelter, clothing, and medical care. They child may also lack a safe environment, and adult emotional support. The abuser may ignore, insult, or threaten the child with violence.

Some authorities consider witnessing violence or severe abuse between parents or adults another form of psychological abuse.

See also:


The rate of physical and emotional neglect of children is difficult to define. Risk factors may include poverty, other stresses in the family, mental illness, or substance abuse by parents or caregivers. Abused children are at risk of becoming abusers themselves as adults.


Symptoms of psychological abuse may include:

  • Difficulties in school
  • Eating disorders, resulting in weight loss or poor weight gain
  • Emotional issues such as low self esteem, depression, and anxiety
  • Rebellious behavior
  • Sleep disorders
  • Vague physical complaints

See also: Failure to thrive

Exams and Tests

Children with suspected emotional abuse should be examined by a trained mental health professional. All neglected or psychologically abused children should be examined for other forms of physical abuse.


Treatment of the abused child may include nutritional and mental health therapy.

It may be necessary to remove the child from the home to prevent further abuse.

Anyone who suspects child abuse should report the matter to Child Protective Services or the police. The goal of child protective agencies is to reunite families after the abuser has received help.

The law requires health care workers, school employees, and child care professionals to report suspected abuse.

Treatment for abusers may involve parenting classes and treatment for mental illness, alcohol, or drug abuse.

Support Groups

There are many support groups available, including:

Prevent Child Abuse America -

Outlook (Prognosis)

With treatment, many children and parents can be reunited as a family. The long-term outcome depends on the severity of abuse, how long the child was abused, the success of psychotherapy, and how well parenting classes worked.

Possible Complications

As in all forms of child abuse, severe injury or death are possible.

Other long-term problems may include a lack of self confidence, depression, rebellious behavior, and becoming an abuser during adulthood.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your primary health care provider if a child has unexplained behavior changes, physical changes such as unexplained injuries, weight loss, or severe tiredness.

Remember that suspected child abuse of any form must be reported to the authorities.


Community programs such as home visits by nurses and social workers can assist families to change behaviors or prevent the start of abuse in high-risk families.

School-based programs designed to improve parenting, communication and self-image are important in preventing future abuse and may lead to identifying abused children.

Parenting classes are very helpful. Newlywed adults without children should be encouraged to take such classes before each child is born. The dynamics in the home change with increasing numbers of children.

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