This quarter at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, I am taking a class called “Family Violence.” In this class, one of the most disturbing types of abuse that I have learned about is the neglect of children. Hard to detect and even harder to prove, it is the most common form of family violence between senior citizens who live with their families. In 1998 there were an estimated 903,000 victims of child maltreatment, and more than half (53 percent) suffered from neglect. In an independent study, the National Committee to Prevent Child Abuse estimated that 3,140,000 children were reported for all types of maltreatment in 1994, and child neglect accounted for approximately 45% of reported cases and 49% of substantiated cases. Also, in 1994, the National Committee to Prevent Child Abuse estimated that 1,271 children died as a result of maltreatment of which 42% were attributed to neglect. Child neglect is as specific a finding as child abuse, though it is more common and often more devastating. Despite this, cases of child neglect are sometimes investigated and documented poorly, simply because the definition of neglect is not clear to the investigator, who then may not be sure what precisely to look for. A definition of neglect allows investigation, collection of evidence, documentation, and court
The cornerstone of neglect is the concept of parental duty. Parents have duties because, until many years after birth, our offspring cannot look after their own basic biological needs and survival, unlike most animals, which can take care of themselves shortly after birth. Our children cannot gather food, protect themselves from the elements or from predators, or recognize danger. Thus, in the performance of this duty, parents do for children what the children cannot yet do for themselves. Parents thereby hugely decrease the chances of children's injury or early death....