Medical neglect is defined as a parent’s failure to provide adequate medical or dental care for their child, especially when it is needed to treat a serious physical injury or illness. In some cases, this can also include a failure to provide for psychiatric care if the child needs it. Also, some jurisdictions may hold other parties liable for medical neglect, such as custodians or guardians who have a legal duty to care for the child.

Medical neglect is generally considered to be a form of child neglect, and is usually listed under a state’s child abuse laws. Some jurisdictions require failure to involve emergency circumstances, but some courts may find medical neglect even in long-term, non-emergency situations.

This type of neglect usually takes one of two forms: Either caregivers do not seek medical treatment when children show clear signs of serious illness, or they do not follow medical advice once it has been sought.

What Types of Actions are Considered to be Medical Neglect?

Various types of conduct and actions by the parent can amount to medical neglect of a child. Some of these may include:

  • Refusing or denying the child access to medical care in an emergency;
  • Refusing to support the child’s medical expenses for an acute illness, without good reason;
  • Ignoring medical recommendations by a physician with regards to a treatable condition; and/or
  • Failing to administer medicine to the child as prescribed by a doctor.

These types of conduct may be easier to prove if they result in significant deterioration of the child’s health, or if they result in frequent or prolonged periods of hospitalization.

It must also be shown that the treatment recommended would substantially benefit the child, that there is access to healthcare, and that the caretaker understands the situation (is mentally competent).

When it comes to religious exemptions from medical neglect law, states vary. Many do allow for parents to refuse both preventative care and treatment for children. Generally, the exemption must be based on sincere religious beliefs, and the parents’ membership in a recognized faith or religious tradition. For example, the Christian Science sect is an established one, known for its belief in faith healing. There are, however, some states (such as Colorado) that do not allow parents to refuse their children medical treatment based on religious beliefs.

What Can a Physician Do in Cases of Medical Neglect?

To begin with, a physician may make certain that families can understand English, and if not, try to involve a translator. The physician can also make sure, regardless of language skills, that the caregiver understands the medical needs.

They can try to involve extended family members and community resources, and work with the family to develop a medical plan that everyone understands. The physician may also recommend further medical diagnostic tests and treatment with other providers, if necessary. Ultimately, they may refer the matter to child services if no other recourse is available.

Will Child Services Intervene in Cases of Medical Neglect?

In some instances, child service agencies may intervene in a severe case of medical neglect. If this is the case, the child services agency may obtain a court order requiring the parent to temporarily surrender custody of the child to the agency, who will then facilitate means for the required medical care.

Intervention is a very serious step that is usually reserved only for very serious cases of medical neglect, such as when:

  • Immediate medical treatment is needed to for an emergency situation;
  • The child has a life-threatening chronic illness and is not receiving the proper medical treatment (for example, when a diabetic child isn’t receiving their medications); and/or
  • The child has a chronic disease that may result in disfigurement or disability if left untreated (for example, if the child needs a surgery to prevent blindness).

When determining whether or not to allow an intervention to occur, the court will analyze many different factors, including the child’s best interests, the interests of the parent, and those of the state.

Are There Legal Consequences Associated with Medical Neglect of a Child?

In addition to the possibility of a state-appointed intervention occurring, medical neglect can also result in very serious legal consequences for the parent or guardian. For example, the parent may face criminal child abuse charges, which may then result in criminal fines and possible jail time.

In very serious cases, the parent may permanently lose their custody and visitation rights. The parent may also find it difficult to obtain employment in the future if it involves the care or treatment of children or infants.

Do I Need a Lawyer if I Have Legal Issues Involving Medical Neglect?

Medical neglect is a very serious matter and is not treated lightly by the courts. If you have any legal questions, concerns, or disputes involving medical neglect of a child, you should contact a family lawyer immediately.

Your lawyer can help represent you in court if you’re being summoned for an appearance. Also you may wish to hire a local family lawyer if you need to report any instances of medical neglect that you are aware of. This can help prevent the child from suffering any injuries or complications from a medical condition.