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When Should Neglect Be Reported?


8 min read

When Should Neglect Be Reported?

When Should Neglect Be Reported?

Mandated reporters have to know which types of abuse and neglect are reportable. While physical signs of abuse can often be visible and evident to mandated reporters, signs of neglect are often harder to identify.

Who is Required to Report Neglect?

Every state has its individual mandated reporting requirements that determine who is legally obligated to report suspected abuse or neglect and define the guidelines for making those reports.

In most states, mandated reporters are designated by their profession. Those professionals typically work with vulnerable populations, such as children or the elderly.

Some of the professionals who might be legally required to report neglect include:

  • Medical professionals
  • Law enforcement
  • Teachers and daycare providers
  • Financial professionals
  • Clergy
  • Volunteers
  • And others

Are you a mandated reporter? Enter your state to find out.

What is Neglect?

Neglect can affect vulnerable populations such as children, elders, and dependent adults.

  • In children, neglect is the most commonly reported form of child maltreatment
  • In the elderly, neglect is the most under-reported form of elder abuse

Identifying neglect, whether it is child neglect or neglect of an elder or dependent adult, can be difficult. The definitions of neglect can also vary from state to state, making it even more difficult for mandated reporters to properly identify a situation where a vulnerable person is being neglected to the extent that a report should be made.

Many aspects make it challenging for Mandated Reporters to recognize neglect. In sixteen states, for example, have a minimum age limit for leaving a child home alone. That age can range from six to 14 years, depending on the state.

Leaving a two-year-old child at home alone for an afternoon would be considered by most people to be neglectful, while leaving a 15-year-old child at home alone for an afternoon is considered perfectly acceptable. But leaving a child who is ten or eleven years old may be a neglectful act in one state but acceptable in another.

Children aren’t the only ones who can be neglected; elders and dependent adults may also suffer from neglect.

Here are some of the types of neglect a mandated reporter may need to know about:

Child Neglect

On a Federal level, the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) defines child abuse and neglect as “any recent act or failure to act on the part of a parent or caregiver that results in death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse, or exploitation, or an act or failure to act that presents an imminent risk of serious harm.”

State definitions of child neglect vary, yet neglect is frequently defined as the failure of a caregiver to provide needed food, shelter, clothing, medical care, or supervision to the degree that the child’s health, safety, and well-being are threatened with harm.

  • In some states, the definition of neglect is expanded to include:
  • failure to educate a child
  • failing to provide special medical treatment or mental health care
  • withholding medical treatment or nutrition from disabled children
  • failing to provide adequate supervision based on age, mental ability, length of absence, and other factors

Some states clearly define activities that are not considered neglectful, such as allowing a child to engage in independent activities appropriate for their level of maturity and other factors, including independently traveling to school, nearby commercial or recreational facilities, playing outdoors, remaining at home for a reasonable amount of time, or remaining in a vehicle if the temperature inside is not dangerously hot or cold.

Because the actual definition of neglect will vary based on your state, mandated reporters must know their state’s legal definition and the scenarios that do and do not constitute neglect. You can find more information at or by taking a mandated reporter training course.

Elder and Dependent Adult Neglect

Mandated reporters may also be required to know the signs of elder and dependent adult neglect. Elders are usually defined as adults aged 60 - 65 or older. Dependent adults are adults aged 18 and older who have physical or mental limitations that restrict their ability to carry out normal activities or protect their rights. A dependent adult is wholly or partially dependent on others for care and support.

Neglect definitions can vary from state to state. In California, for example, elder and dependent adult neglect is defined as:

  • failure to assist in personal hygiene or in the provision of food, clothing, or shelter
  • failure to provide medical care for physical and mental health needs
  • failure to protect someone from health and safety hazards
  • failure to prevent malnutrition or dehydration

Poverty vs. Neglect

Poverty can be a risk factor for neglect, but poverty does not equal neglect.

Child neglect reports occur at a consistently higher rate than reports of other types of child maltreatment.

In a 2017 study, researchers at Oxford University reviewed a decade’s worth of data reported to state child protective services agencies; the researchers found that a one percent increase in the unemployment rate led to a 20 percent increase in reported neglect. Researchers did not find a link between unemployment rates and increasing reports of other forms of abuse — only reports of neglect.

Poverty is disproportionally present in Black, Brown, and American Indian/Alaska Native families, reports “Because of this, service providers need to be aware of how biases, stigma, and oversurveillance of families, especially low-income families, leads to unnecessary involvement with child welfare.”

Numerous research studies have documented the overrepresentation of Black families in the child welfare system resulting from reports and substantiations of child neglect, a reflection of compounded risk factors of poverty and institutional racial bias in child protection systems.

One study found that 53 percent of all Black children experience a child welfare investigation by age 18.

“Poverty is not neglect. Poverty is rarely a willful attempt to deny children their basic needs. Poverty is not a reason to remove children from their parents. The availability of a financially better-off relative or foster family is not a reason to separate children from their parents or to keep them separated. While many state definitions of child neglect expressly prohibit removing children solely due to poverty, the reality is that it happens every day.” - Jerry Milner and David Kelly.

It’s important for mandated reporters to understand that poverty does not equal neglect, that families of color are more likely to be investigated by Child Protective Services, and how their own explicit and implicit bias can affect their decision-making process when engaging with families from racially and culturally diverse backgrounds.

Caregiver Neglect vs. Self-Neglect

For seniors and dependent adults, neglect is not always at the hands of a caregiver. What is the difference between caregiver neglect and self-neglect?

  • Caregiver neglect is failing to provide food, clothing, shelter, or health care for a person under your care.
  • Self-neglect is failing to provide these necessities (food, shelter, healthcare) for oneself.

Caregiver Neglect Scenario

If you are an emergency room nurse treating an elderly adult for malnutrition and dehydration and your patient reports living with her adult son and daughter-in-law, it could be a sign of caregiver neglect—the person responsible for providing adequate food for that person is not doing so.

Self-Neglect Scenario

If you are a building code enforcer called out to inspect a residential home because of complaints of yard clutter and the homeowner is elderly, lives alone, and shows signs of dehydration and maltreatment, it could be an issue of self-neglect.

How is Neglect Reported?

Mandated reporters of child abuse or elder and dependent adult abuse have a legal requirement to report when they suspect neglect is occurring.

Where is a Neglect Report Made?

The process for making a report is not the same in every scenario. Depending on the alleged victim and location where the neglect is occurring, a mandated reporter may need to report to one or more of the following:

  • Local Law Enforcement
  • Child Protective Services
  • Adult Protective Services
  • Local Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program

Some states may have specific written forms that are required when making a report, while others may simply need a phone call placed to local law enforcement and the correct protective services department.

Your state and employer should offer guidelines to help you understand your legal requirements for where to file a neglect report.

When is a Report Required?

Mandated reporters may have varying requirements for when to file a report of suspected neglect. Reporting requirements—including the time frame for when to file a report—can differ based on:

  • State requirements
  • Age of the alleged victim (child vs. elder or dependent adult)
  • Severity of the situation
  • Location of the alleged abuse (long-term care facility vs. residential home)

Your state and employer should offer guidelines to help you understand your legal requirements for when to file a neglect report.

Is Mandated Reporter Training Available?

Understanding your legal requirements for mandated reporting can be difficult. Many states offer mandated reporter training courses to help professionals understand their legal obligations to report suspected abuse and neglect.

Mandated Reporter Training is available through, or courses may be available through your state’s Child Welfare or Adult Welfare agencies.

Mandated reporter training may be required of you. In some states, mandated reporter training is required to obtain or renew certain professional licenses.

Mandated reporter training may also meet the criteria for continuing education credits for obtaining or renewing certain professional licenses.

Even if you are not required to take mandated reporter training to obtain or renew your professional license, training can bring an extensive amount of information and peace of mind for reporters. One of the largest barriers to reporting is not knowing how, where, or when to file a report. Training can give you the information you need to help identify suspected abuse or neglect and carry out your duties as a mandated reporter.

Mandated Reporter Training can also help you better understand implicit bias and the ways bias and stereotypes can impact your decision-making when reporting.

Mandated Reporters Can Protect Against Neglect

Neglect is a form of abuse that can have long-lasting and severe effects on victims. For elderly victims, neglect can lead to increased hospitalizations and premature death. For children, neglect can bring physical and psychological health consequences, as well as behavioral consequences that can negatively affect their future. When mandated reporters are able to identify and report suspected neglect, they can take action to protect the health, lives, and futures of those who need protection.

Recognize the signs of abuse.