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Allegations of child neglect should be taken very seriously

Raising a child with someone to whom you are no longer romantically connected can be an enormous challenge. This is especially true if you don't trust that person or have a healthy co-parenting relationship. Under these circumstances, fights can erupt regularly and motions to modify custody orders can be an ever-present threat.

However, it is crucial to prioritize the welfare of the child in the middle of all this. Are they being treated properly? Do they have support and care from both parents? If so, it may be wise to put personal feelings on the back burner and focus on how to promote the child having healthy relationships and boundaries with both parents. If not, there may be larger issues to tackle, including neglect.

What neglect might look like

This page about child neglect from the North Carolina Division of Social Services provides a list of signs that a child is being neglected. Generally, these signs include:

  • Malnourishment
  • Lack of adult supervision
  • Substance abuse problems
  • Lack of appropriate clothing, food and money

Anyone with concerns about a neglected child must file a report with Social Services, and the parent or person involved could face serious penalties.

Is it neglect?

Parents involved in a bitter custody battle might accuse the other parent of neglecting their child, even if the child is safe and supported. They might do this to punish the other parent or because they don't agree with their parenting styles. 

For instance, some parents might think that a child staying home alone or walking to school alone amounts to neglect. However, that may not necessarily be the case.

In fact, one state recently passed a law that changed the definition of neglect to reflect a "free-range" approach to parenting. In that state, it is no longer considered neglect to let a child "of sufficient age and maturity" walk to school, play outside or stay at home alone unless his or her health is at risk.

Though the law was passed in another state, it can serve as a reminder that people take different approaches to parenting; one might see neglect where another person sees independence.

If there is hostility between parents with custody or visitation, then there may be heightened scrutiny of each other's parenting. However, it is important to differentiate concerns with the other parent's parenting from actual child neglect. Parents should not make these allegations lightly. In extreme cases, a parent may make false reports of suspected neglect or abuse in order to be vindictive towards the other parent. Such actions can be extremely damaging to children, and misreporting such allegations may itself be a form of emotional neglect/abuse towards the child. 

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