Neglect is 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 is 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 foos, 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.

“In the UK, neglect is the most common reason for becoming the subject of a child protection plan. However, it is an issue which receives relatively little attention in comparison to other forms of maltreatment”. Neglected Adolescents: a review of the research and the preparation of guidance for multi-disciplinary teams and a guide for young people. Stein et al, DCSF research brief 2009. Neglect is associated with situations where a parent or carer fails to meet the basic needs of the child e.g. by not providing adequate food, warmth, protection from harm, supervision, stimulation or medical care.

The evidence about parental characteristics associated with neglect is not clear cut. However, poverty, parental substance misuse and an accumulation of adverse factors are often linked to neglect. Evidence would also indicate that parents, who are neglecting their children and the neglected child him/herself, are unlikely to direct seek help from professional services. See Noticing and helping the neglected child. Daniel, Taylor and Scott, DCSF research brief 2009. The maltreatment of children – physically, emotionally, sexually or through neglect – can have major long-term effects on all aspects of a child’s health, development and wellbeing.

Professionals must take special care to help safeguard and promote the welfare of children and young people who may be living in particularly stressful circumstances. These include families:

  • living in poverty;
  • where there is domestic violence;
  • where a parent has a mental illness;
  • where a parent is misusing drugs or alcohol;
  • where a parent has a learning disability;
  • that face racism and other forms of social isolation; and
  • living in areas with a lot of crime, poor housing and high unemployment.

Neglect may be factor in a number of areas where children may be experiencing difficulty, for example:

  • Difficulty with forming attachments
  • Impairment with physical and intellectual development
  • Impairment of health
  • Difficulty in social functioning/forming relationships
  • Poor educational progress
  • Low self-esteem
  • Isolation
  • Risky behaviour,
  • Running away
  • Bullying
  • Anti-social behaviour.

Professionals should, therefore, consider whether neglect may be a issue where such difficulties arise. For younger children, evidence suggests that health visitors may be particularly able to identify where poor developmental may be linked to neglect.

Severe neglect of young children has adverse effects on children’s ability to form attachments and is associated with major impairment of growth and development. Persistent neglect can lead to serious impairment of health and development, and long-term difficulties with social functioning, relationships and educational progress. Neglected children may also experience low self-esteem, and feelings of being unloved and isolated. Neglect can also result, in extreme cases, in death. The impact of neglect varies depending on how long children have been neglected, the children’s age, and the multiplicity of neglectful behaviours children have been experiencing.

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