What is neglect?
Neglect is the ongoing failure to meet a child’s basic physical and emotional needs, and is the most common form of child abuse. A child might be left hungry or dirty, or without proper clothing, shelter, supervision or health care. This can put children and young people in danger, and can also have long term effects on their physical and mental wellbeing.
Types of neglect
Neglect can be a lot of different things, which can make it hard to spot. But broadly speaking, there are four types of neglect.
A child’s basic needs, such as food, clothing, or shelter, are not met or they aren’t properly supervised or kept safe.
A parent doesn’t ensure their child is given an education.
A child doesn’t get the nurture and stimulation they need. This could be through ignoring, humiliating, intimidating, or isolating them.
A child isn’t given proper health care. This includes access to dental care and refusing or ignoring medical recommendations.
Signs of neglect
Neglect can be really difficult to spot. Having one of the signs doesn’t necessarily mean a child is being neglected. But if you notice multiple signs that last for a while, they might show there’s a serious problem. Children and young people who are neglected might have:
poor appearance and hygiene
health and development problems
housing and family issues
changes in behaviour
A child might not understand they’re being neglected. In households where neglect has been ongoing, the child may understand their situation to be normal for them. If you’re worried about a child and want to talk to them, we have advice on having difficult conversations.
If a child reveals abuse
A child who is being neglected might not realise what’s happening is wrong, and might even blame themselves. If a child talks to you about neglect it’s important to:
listen carefully to what they’re saying
let them know they’ve done the right thing by telling you
tell them it’s not their fault
say you’ll take them seriously
don’t confront the alleged abuser
explain what you’ll do next
report what the child has told you as soon as possible.
Effects of neglect
Neglect changes childhood. Children who’ve been neglected might experience short-term and long-term effects. These can include:
problems with brain development
taking risks, like running away from home, using drugs and alcohol or breaking the law
getting into dangerous relationships
difficulty with relationships later in life, including with their own children
a higher chance of having mental health problems, including depression.
Who’s at risk
Any child can suffer neglect, but some children and young people are more at risk than others. These include children who:
are born prematurely
have a disability
have complex health needs
are in care
are seeking asylum