Medical Neglect

Medical neglect is the failure of parents or legal guardians to provide appropriate health care, including psychological treatment, for their child. In some cases, the reason for this failure is negligence or inability (e.g., physical, cognitive, or financial limitations). Social and financial assistance may be available when such inabilities limit parents' resources to provide adequate medical treatment for their child. Parents may also fail to provide medical care because of cultural norms, insufficient information, or religious beliefs. Cases in which parents withhold medical care based on their religious beliefs do not fall under the definition of medical neglect, but most jurisdictions are moving toward eliminating these religious exemptions.

Medical neglect can result in adverse health consequences, such as the worsening of the child's existing physical illness. According to the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System, medical neglect accounted for 1.2% of child maltreatment fatalities in the United States in 2007 (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services 2007).

Concern is warranted when a parent refuses medical care for a child in an emergency or for treatment of an acute illness and when a parent ignores medical recommendations for a child who has a treatable chronic disease or disability, resulting in frequent hospitalizations or significant medical deterioration. Child protective services agencies generally will intervene when a child needs emergency medical treatment or when a child has a life-threatening or chronic illness that may result in disability or disfigurement if left untreated. Most jurisdictions issue court orders to permit appropriate medical treatment in these situations.

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