Neglect What is neglect
Neglect is the ongoing failure to meet a child's basic needs and is the most common form of child abuse.
A child may be left hungry or dirty, without adequate clothing, shelter, supervision, medical or health care.
A child may be put in danger or not protected from physical or emotional harm.
They may not get the love, care and attention they need from their parents.
A child who's neglected will often suffer from other abuse as well. Neglect is dangerous and can cause serious, long-term damage - even death.
Types of 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.
Failing to ensure a child receives an education.
Failing to meet a child’s needs for nurture and stimulation, perhaps by ignoring, humiliating, intimidating or isolating them. It’s often the most difficult to prove.
Failing to provide appropriate health care, including dental care and refusal of care or ignoring medical recommendations.
Source: Horwath, 2007
for taking child protection action
Explanation: There were 27,856 children in the UK on child protection registers or the subject of child protection plans under a category that included neglect on 31 March 2017 (or 31 July 2017 in Scotland). This equates to 48% of all the children on child protection registers or the subject of child protection plans.
This is based on figures from each UK nation and includes all categories that include neglect. These figures represent children identified and assessed as being at ongoing risk of significant harm from neglect.
Children on a child protection register or subject to a child protection plan due to neglect by nation:
- England: 24,590
- Northern Ireland: 1,045
- Scotland: 951
- Wales: 1,270
How we helped Sophie realise her parents' neglect and drug use was not her fault.
Meeting a child's needs
Neglect happens when parents or carers can't or won't meet a child's needs. Sometimes this is because they don't have the skills or support needed, and sometimes it's due to other problems such as mental health issues, drug and alcohol problems or poverty.
Although professionals may be worried about a child, it's not always easy to identify neglect. There's often no single sign that a child or family need help. So, professionals look for a pattern of ongoing neglect before they step in.
Defining a child's needs
Christine Cooper's parenting checklist gives a description of a child's basic needs. Published in 1985, it is still used by many practitioners today. There are 7 definitions:
Warmth, shelter, adequate food and rest, grooming (hygiene) and protection from danger.
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.
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.
By praise and encouragement; curiosity and exploratory behaviour. By developing skills though responsiveness to questions and to play, by promoting educational opportunities.
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.
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.
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)].
Help and advice for professionals
Facts and statistics about neglect
Child neglect is the most common form of child abuse, but it isn't always easy to identify.
Our research and resources on neglect
Read our service evaluations, research reports, briefings and leaflets about child neglect.
Search our library for neglect publications
We hold the UK's largest collection of child protection resources and the only UK database specialising in published material on child protection, child abuse and child neglect.
What you can do
Are you there for children's mental health?
We need to make sure every child always has a place to turn - night and day. Sign our petition calling on the government to help our Childline service be there for every child.
Last year a third of all calls to our helpline were about neglect, a figure that's even higher at Christmas. Donate now and help shine a light on children left in the dark.
Work or volunteer with children and families?
Visit NSPCC Learning for information, resources and training to help you safeguard and protect children and young people across the UK.
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.
Horwath, J. (2007) Child neglect: identification and assessment. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.