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Neglect factsheet series
The basic needs of a child that should be met by a parent or primary carer are simple, but the neglect of any one of these needs can have a profound effect on their development.
From birth all children need:
Anyone who is concerned that a child is at risk of neglect should follow their organisation's child protection procedures or they can contact the NSPCC on 0808 800 5000 for advice and support about what action they can take to safeguard a child they are working with.
Cooper (1985) outlined a child's basic needs and these are still used by many practitioners today:
"Basic physical care: warmth, shelter, adequate food and rest, grooming (hygiene) and protection from danger.
Affection: which includes physical contact, holding stroking, cuddling and kissing, comforting, admiration, delight, tenderness, patience, time, making allowances for annoying behaviour, and general companionship and approval.
Security: continuity of care, the expectation of continuing in the stable family unit, a predictable environment, consistent patterns of care and daily routine, simple rules and consistent controls and a harmonious family group.
Stimulation and innate potential: by praise and encouragement; curiosity and exploratory behaviour. By developing skills though responsiveness to questions and to play, by promoting educational opportunities.
Guidance and control: to teach adequate social behaviour which includes discipline within the child's understanding and capacity and which requires patience and a model for the child to copy, for example in honesty and concern and kindness for others.
Responsibility: for small things at first such as self-care, tidying playthings or taking dishes to the kitchen and gradually elaborating the decision making that the child has to learn in order to function adequately, gaining experience through his/her mistakes as well as his/her stresses and receiving praise and encouragement to strive to do better.
Independence: to make his/her own decisions first about small things but increasingly about the various aspects of his/her own life within the confines of the family and society's codes. Parents use fine judgement in encouraging independence and in letting the child see and feel the outcome of his or her own capacity. Protection is needed, but over-protection is as bad as responsibility and independence too early."
[Reproduced with permission from the British Association for Adoption and Fostering (BAAF)].
A child's rights are enshrined in the United Nations' Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989). The UK government ratified this convention on 16 December 1991. Wales is the first, and so far only, part of the UK to embed the principles of the UN Convention into its own laws.
The following UNICEF summary of three articles from the UN Convention are the most relevant to neglect:
"Article 19 (Protection from all forms of violence): Children have the right to be protected from being hurt and mistreated, physically or mentally. Governments should ensure that children are properly cared for and protect them from violence, abuse and neglect by their parents, or anyone else who looks after them. In terms of discipline, the Convention does not specify what forms of punishment parents should use. However any form of discipline involving violence is unacceptable. There are ways to discipline children that are effective in helping children learn about family and social expectations for their behaviour - ones that are non-violent, are appropriate to the child's level of development and take the best interests of the child into consideration. In most countries, laws already define what sorts of punishments are considered excessive or abusive. It is up to each government to review these laws in light of the Convention.
Article 6 (Survival and development): Children have the right to live. Governments should ensure that children survive and develop healthily.
Article 27 (Adequate standard of living): Children have the right to a standard of living that is good enough to meet their physical and mental needs. Governments should help families and guardians who cannot afford to provide this, particularly with regard to food, clothing and housing.
Article 24 (Health and health services): Children have the right to good quality health care – the best health care possible – to safe drinking water, nutritious food, a clean and safe environment, and information to help them stay healthy. Rich countries should help poorer countries achieve this." (UNICEF, ).
Anyone who is concerned that a child is at risk of neglect should follow their organisation's child protection procedures. Or they can contact the NSPCC on 0808 800 5000 for advice and support about what action they can take to safeguard a child they are working with.
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NSPCC Library Online
Beesley, P. (2011) Ten top tips for identifying neglect. London: British Association for Adoption and Fostering (BAAF).
Cooper, Christine (1985) ‘Good-enough’, border-line and ‘bad-enough’ parenting. In: Adcock, M. and White, R. (eds.) Good-enough parenting: a framework for assessment. London: British Association for Adoption and Fostering (BAAF). See pp.60-1.
United Nations (1989) Convention on the Rights of the Child. Geneva: Defence for Children International (DCI).
UNICEF () Fact sheet: a summary of the rights under the Convention on the Rights of the Child (PDF). [Geneva]: UNICEF.