The Juvenile Court and Emotional Neglect of Children

A primary function of the Juvenile Court is to assist in the protection of children from abuse and neglect. Juvenile court acts, child abuse reporting statutes, and child protective services legislation have incorporated provisions dealing with physical abuse and physical neglect of children. Such legislation enables state intervention into family life for the protection of children exposed to harmful environments. Statutory definitions of abuse and neglect provide a basis on which the community, frequently through the juvenile court, may pass judgment on the existence of child neglect and offer services or coerce family members to accept them. A few states, including Michigan, have expanded juvenile court jurisdiction beyond the traditional notions of physical neglect to encompass what has come to be known as “emotional neglect,” a concept beginning to appear more frequently in child abuse reporting laws as well. As will be suggested herein, standards for state intervention into situations of emotional neglect can and should be established to enable such intervention to be at least as effective as it is in cases of physical neglect.