The impact of neglect on children and young people is enormous, yet it can be difficult to define and research shows that it often co-exists with other forms of abuse and adversity. It is also the most common reason for child protection plans in the UK.  Neglect can be a catalyst to future vulnerabilities for young people, for some who have experienced neglect there are additional risks of harm as they grow up.

The CHSCP has identified this issue as an area of priority with key learning arising from two multi-agency case reviews concerning children who had been chronically neglected. The learning from both Child E and Child K is available here. Key themes include:

– that children should be seen, heard and helped, with the importance of conducting home visits and seeing children in different environments

– professionals need to identify and name Neglect as a potential concern.

– when working across children and adult services remembering to “Think Family”

– the additional vulnerability of children with disabilities.

– the duty to respond and escalate concerns.

– the importance of information sharing.

What is Neglect?

The persistent failure to meet a child’s basic physical and/or psychological needs, likely to result in the serious impairment of the child’s health or development. Neglect may occur during pregnancy as a result of maternal substance abuse. Once a child is born, neglect may involve a parent or carer failing to:

– provide adequate food, clothing and shelter (including exclusion from home or abandonment);

– protect a child from physical and emotional harm or danger;

– ensure adequate supervision (including the use of inadequate care-givers); or

– ensure access to appropriate medical care or treatment.

It may also include neglect of, or unresponsiveness to, a child’s basic emotional needs”

(Working Together)

According to the NSPCC neglect is the most common form of child abuse, with one in ten children experiencing neglect in the UK. It is the most common reason for taking child protection action.

Neglect often happens over a period of time, but can also be a one-off event. Incidents often don’t meet social care or criminal thresholds as it is the cumulative effect that is most impactful.

A child who is neglected will often suffer from other forms of abuse as well. Neglect is dangerous and can cause serious, long-term damage or even death.

Think adolescents

Like younger children, adolescents are more likely to experience neglect at home than any other form of child harm. A recent report by the Children’s Society into adolescents and neglect found that there was evidence that professionals struggle to identify adolescent neglect and are unsure what to do when they come across it. This has partly been based on misconceptions, including that adolescents become resilient to neglect and that neglect is less harmful than other forms of maltreatment.

Neglect has been linked to a variety of problems for adolescents, including to ‘challenging’ behaviours e.g. poor engagement with education, violence and aggression, increased risk-taking (offending or anti-social behaviour, substance misuse, early sexual intercourse). It can lead to poor physical health, difficulties with relationships (with peers and adults) and be behind ‘internalised’ problems – e.g. low levels of well-being or mental ill health.

Forms of Neglect

– Physical Neglect; failing to provide for a child’s basic needs such as food, clothing or shelter. Failing to adequately supervise a child or provide for their safety.

– Emotional Neglect; the omission of love and failing to nurture a child. Emotional neglect can overlap with emotional abuse but is a different form of maltreatment.

– Educational Neglect; failing to ensure a child receives an education.

– Medical Neglect; failing to provide appropriate health care, including dental care and refusal of care or ignoring medial requirements.

Signs of Neglect

– Children who are living in a home that is undisputedly dirty or unsafe

– Children who are left hungry or dirty

– Children who are left without adequate clothing, e.g. not having a winter coat

– Children who are living in dangerous conditions, e.g. around drugs, alcohol or violence

– Children who are often angry, aggressive or self-harm

– Children who fail to receive basic healthcare

– Parents who fail to seek medical treatment when their children are ill or injured.

You may notice a child who is neglected because they:

– become withdrawn

– suddenly behave differently

– are anxious, clingy and/or obsessive

– become depressed and/or aggressive

– take risks such as breaking the law, running away from home, getting involved in dangerous relationships which could put them at risk of sexual exploitation

– have problems sleeping, nightmares

– have a change in eating habits or suffer from eating disorders

– wet the bed

– soil their clothes

– miss school

– abuse drugs, alcohol

– self-harm, have thoughts about suicide.

The Effects of Neglect

– Children who have been neglected may experience short-term and long-term effects that last throughout their life.

– Not only will it make a child’s life miserable but it affects all aspects of their development and future relationships. It can be anything from affecting early brain development, language delay, physical injuries from accidents, low self-esteem, poor school attendance, to; self-harm and suicide attempts.

– In the worst cases, children can die from malnutrition or being denied the care they need and in some cases it can cause permanent disabilities.

– Children who don’t get the love and care they need from their parents may find it difficult to maintain healthy relationships with other people later in life, including their own children.

– Children who have been neglected are also more likely to experience mental health problems including depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Reporting Concerns

You may notice signs of neglect which could be the missing information to protect a child from harm.

– If you are worried about a child or young person, talk to someone who works with them, such as their teacher, support worker, a youth worker or social worker.

– If you are worried about child or young person, talk to your safeguarding lead.

Message for children and young people

Sometimes it’s hard for us to see when we are not being treated right and this is when family, friends, neighbours and communities are so important. It is not okay for someone to hurt you and abuse is never your fault. If you or your friends are not getting the important things you need at home, you could be being neglected.

If you think you or a friend are being neglected at home? Talk to someone you trust such as a teacher or a friend’s parent and tell them what is happening.

If you don’t want to talk to someone you know you can contact ChildLine for support and advice on 0800 11 11 or visit their website.