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.

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Signs, indicators and effects

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Identifying the signs of neglect

Preventing child neglect

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Types 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.

Educational neglect
Failing to ensure a child receives an education.

Emotional neglect
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.

Medical neglect
Failing to provide appropriate health care, including dental care and refusal of care or ignoring medical recommendations.

Source: Horwath, 2007

Sophie's story

How we helped Sophie realise her parents' neglect and drug use was not her fault.

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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)].

Learn more about neglect

Who is affected by neglect

Why some children face a greater risk of neglect than others

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Keeping children safe from neglect

How to help keep children safe from neglect
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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.

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Our research and resources on neglect

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  1. 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.

  2. Horwath, J. (2007) Child neglect: identification and assessment. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.