About Neglect

Child Neglect is a continued failure to provide a child with needed care and protection, involving issues with inadequate supervision, abandonment, environment, nutrition, clothing/hygiene, medical neglect, educational neglect, failure to protect, prenatal exposure to alcohol or controlled substances, and/or environmental exposure to controlled substances.


Inadequate Supervision

The ultimate responsibility for the safety, care, well being, and behavior of dependent children remains with the parent or caregiver, whether they are present to personally supervise them or not.

The age of the child is not the only factor that should be considered when children are left alone. Other factors include the maturity of the child, emotional health factors, the child’s physical or cognitive limitations, length of time left alone, time of day or night, other children present or to be supervised, location and environmental conditions, frequency of being left alone and the accessibility of a parent or other responsible adult.

Inadequate supervision may exist when the guidelines outlined below are not met:


For children 0-4 years of age:

  • Outside of the home the child should be in view of the caregiver at all times. The caregiver must be able to respond to the child’s immediate need for protection from harm;
  • Children should not be left alone in a vehicle for more than a brief period of time. If left alone the child should be in direct view of the caregiver at all times. The child(ren) should be in a restraint unable to put the vehicle in gear; and
  • Inside the home, a caregiver should be available and able to respond to the child to provide immediate care and protection from harm.


For children 0-17 (specific minimum ages outlined):

  • Children eight (8) years of age or under should be supervised at all times with a caregiver available. An eight year old should not be left in charge of children;
  • Children who are nine (9) years old should not be left unsupervised for periods greater than two (2) hours during the daytime. This age child should not be unsupervised at night and should not supervise other children;
  • Children who are 10 and 11 years old may be left alone for longer periods of time. However, caution is advised in leaving a child unsupervised during sleeping hours. Children in this age should not be responsible for younger children;
  • Children who are the age of twelve (12) years and older may be permitted to act as babysitters. It is recommended that they successfully complete an approved childcare training course. Caution should be advised on number of children left in care, length of time for care giving responsibility, factors regarding special needs of children left in care and resources available to child providing care;
  • Children under 15 years of age should not be left unattended overnight;
  • Caution should be taken in leaving 15-17 year olds alone overnight. Extended absences of caregivers are not recommended; and
  • Caregivers should adhere to supervision requirements of public facilities, (i.e. Video Arcades, Drop-In Centers, Pools, Restaurants, etc.).


All children left home alone must be able to demonstrate:

  • Knowledge of where their parents or other responsible adults are, how to reach them, and length of time of absence; and
  • Knowledge of emergency procedures and arrangements for emergency situations.

Inadequate supervision may also exist in circumstances where the caregivers are present but physically or mentally impaired to such an extent that they are unable to provide supervision or respond to the needs of the child.



Abandonment may exist when the caregiver of the child fails to make appropriate child care arrangements during an extended absence.

Arrangements include:

  • Children left with a responsible substitute caregiver;
  • The parent returns at the designated time or the current caregiver is willing or able to care for the child;
  • The caregiver must be advised of the parent’s whereabouts and the anticipated length of the arrangement; and
  • Appropriate arrangements for emergency situations must be made.

Abandonment may exist when there is:

  • Relinquishment of care giving;
  • The caregiver has been absent for 96 hours and the caregiver’s whereabouts are unknown; and
  • Substitute caregiver is not being financially supported for the care of the child(ren).



Neglect may exist when a condition is such that it is harmful or potentially harmful to the children or when the condition of the home presents an immediate risk to the child’s physical well-being. Examples include:

  • Broken glass or other potentially injurious object;
  • Spoiled food that is potentially accessible to child;
  • No guards (as age appropriate) on open windows or on stairwells;
  • Lead paint or other toxic materials that are potentially accessible to child (this includes medications);
  • Inadequate sewage disposal;
  • Animal or human waste;
  • Leaking gas or toxic fumes;
  • Broken or missing windows;
  • Inadequate/unsafe heat;
  • Drugs or alcohol accessible to child;
  • Specific fire hazard/exits from home; and
  • Accessibility to, or improper storage of, firearms or other weapons.



Neglect may exist when a child is not provided adequate nutrition and nourishment and/or failure to thrive is present.

Nutritional neglect may exist in the following examples:

  • Inadequate nutritional food in the home. Children unable to feed themselves. May eat nonfood items or spoiled food;
  • Children suffer from clinical symptoms of malnutrition, dehydration, or food poisoning; and
  • Child deliberately or intentionally not fed or given water for at least one day, or fed minimally and nutritionally inadequate for several days.



Neglect may exist in the following circumstances:

  • Failure to provide clothing adequate for the weather;
  • When a child’s lack of cleanliness has caused the child to be offensive to others; i.e., when the child is ostracized because of body odor;
  • If a child and/or his/her clothing are infested with lice, fleas, and goes untreated, even when provided information or medication to relieve the problem; and
  • That there is an identified risk of harm to the child as the result of the clothing or wrapping used.


Medical Neglect

Neglect in this category may exist when caregivers fail to seek medical or other treatment for a health condition, which left untreated could become severe enough to represent a health danger or permanent impairment/disfigurement to the child.

In addition, failure to provide or allow needed care in accord with recommendations of a competent health care professional, or failure to seek timely and appropriate medical care for a serious health problem, which any reasonable person would have recognized as needing professional medical attention, may be neglect.


Educational Neglect

North Dakota Century Code Chapter 15.1-20-01, “Compulsory Attendance”, directs that the caregiver(s) for a child “between the ages of seven and sixteen years shall ensure that the child is in attendance at a public school for the duration of each school year.” This law also says that if a person enrolls a child of age six in a public school, the caregiver shall ensure that the child attends the public school for the duration of the school year. A caregiver may withdraw a child of age six from the public school. This section of the law does not apply if the reason for the withdrawal is the child’s relocation to another school district. State statute also provides that a child may receive home education unless the child has a developmental disability that meets the legal definition. There are also other allowable exemptions in NDCC section 15.1-20-02.

Educational neglect may exist when a child aged seven to sixteen is not meeting the mandated educational requirements with consent, encouragement or insistence of the caregiver. When a child does not attend school or receive appropriate home schooling, the reasons behind their lack of attendance can vary. Caregivers’ actions or inaction has direct impact on the child’s educational growth. Educational neglect may also be a symptom of much more complex issues within the family, such as domestic violence or parental substance abuse or mental health concerns that prevent the child’s caregiver from insuring the child’s regular attendance at school. Other underlying forms of abuse or neglect may also play a role in the lack of school attendance, e.g. the child who is physically or sexually abused may be or feel physically unable to come to school; a child who is neglected may be too malnourished to participate in school or may lack warm clothing to travel to school on a winter day. Examples include:

  • A situation in which a caregiver refuses to permit a child to attend school and makes no other provision for the child’s education, such as home schooling;
  • Action on the part of the parent requires an older child to stay home from school to provide childcare for a preschool sibling;
  • Inaction of the parent that hinders the child’s school attendance.


Failure to Protect

Concerns for safety or risk are present when caregivers fail to protect a child from harm or threat of harm. Examples include:

  • Person poses physical or sexual threat to child(ren) and caregiver does not act to protect child(ren);
  • Caregiver exposes children to threatening or dangerous conditions or situations, including knowingly subjecting children to an untreated sexual offender;
  • Report of abuse between siblings and caregiver does not act to protect child(ren); and
  • Caregiver is not responding to the degree of threat presented, or is not cooperating with professional recommendations for suicidal children.


Prenatal Exposure to Alcohol or Controlled Substances

A child is subjected, prenatally, to the chronic and severe use of alcohol or any use of a controlled substance not lawfully prescribed (NDCC 27-20-02 (f)).


Environmental Exposure to Controlled Substances

Child neglect is also present when a caregiver subjects a child to exposure to a controlled substance, chemical substance, or drug paraphernalia (NDCC 27-20-02 (g)).


Causes and Effects of Neglect

Understand Why Some Children are Neglected

Neglect is rarely a willful act. Most parents want to be good parents, but have trouble dealing with the STRESS caused by:

  • Emotional Problems. Parents who neglect their children generally have a very poor self-image. Often they were denied love and praise during their own childhoods. Lack of support from relatives, friends and the community combined with possible marital problems may leave parents feeling lonely, isolated, trapped and depressed.
  • Financial Difficulties. Without enough money, daily life can be very stressful. Many parents must struggle just to provide food and clothing for their children. Poor housing conditions, which parents feel powerless to improve, make matters worse. Tensions can continue to build unless parents get the help they need.
  • Limited Parenting Skills. Some neglectful parents are insecure. They know very little about raising children and have no one to turn to for help. Their only role models are their own parents – who may have neglected them. Following their parents’ example means that the vicious cycle of neglect continues.
  • Drug/Alcohol Abuse. Using alcohol or other drugs as an escape only creates more problems. The effects of alcohol or other drugs limit a parent’s ability to properly care for children.


What are the Effects of Neglect?

The effects of neglect can be categorized as physical, intellectual, and social. Few children die from neglect; unfortunately, a notable number experience permanent physical disabilities.


Physical Effects:

  • No regular meals
  • Lack of sufficient sleep
  • Appearance is smelly and dirty
  • Lack of supervision leaves children vulnerable to dangerous caregivers, peers, and strangers

Intellectual Effects:

  • Developmental delay
  • Academic failure
  • Underachievement
  • Poor development of basic skills
  • Dropping out of school

Social Effects:

  • Inability to establish reciprocal and supportive relationships
  • Helplessness
  • Depression
  • Despair
  • Isolate sufferers from help others could give
  • Children unprepared for school often become socially excluded
  • Teased
  • Ignored
  • Shunned
  • Social Withdrawal
  • Aggression


Nutritional Neglect can be crippling in young children; in many cases, this results in permanently stunted physical and intellectual development. In older children, chronic malnutrition leads to illness and inability to benefit from schooling.

Educational Neglect denies children the benefits of schooling. Moreover, when they do attend school, these children experience constant failure, which destroys their spirit. The lack of confidence and feelings of worthlessness these children experience prevent preparation for the adult tasks of employment and child rearing.

Medical Neglect leaves children vulnerable to serious illness and disability. Moreover, by extending the amount of time that children are sick, it interferes with children’s academic achievement.


Source: Preventing Child Neglect, Patricia M. Crittenden, Prevent Child Abuse America Publications.