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Child Neglect and Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy

NCJ Number
Date Published
March 2001
20 pages
This booklet defines the concept of parental duty, explores the links between poverty and neglect, describes the ways in which children are neglected and in which cases of neglect may be detected, and discusses Munchausen syndrome by proxy.
In defining neglect, the author advises that a child has the right to expect, and the parent has a duty to reasonably and prudently provide, food, clothing, shelter, supervision, medical care, nurturance, and teaching. It is important to distinguish the neglect caused by poverty from the neglect not caused by poverty. Neglect not caused by poverty typically involves the failure to provide food, clothing, and protective care even though the resources exist to provide such care, as well as the failure to provide attentive, responsive care during childhood. Nurturance neglect rarely occurs without other neglect or abuse. Guidelines for an investigation of neglect focus on evidence at the scene, what to look for in the medical records and at autopsy, and other records. Munchausen syndrome by proxy is a form of child abuse wherein a parent (usually the mother) intentionally fabricates illness in her child and repeatedly presents the child for medical care, disclaiming knowledge as to the cause of the problem. Child victims of this syndrome are at risk for serious injury or death. Investigation of the possibility of the existence of this syndrome should be conducted early on by a multidisciplinary child protection team that should include medical personnel, the primary care nurse, county social services, mental health professionals, and an epidemiologist. Law enforcement personnel should become involved early in a case. Evidence collection, timely arrest, and development of a case for prosecution are some of their roles. 9 supplemental readings, 6 organizations, and 15 additional resources

Date Published: March 1, 2001