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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.

1. Overview

1.1 Child and adolescent neglect has increased during the last two decades and is the most common reason for child protection plans in the UK. Neglect can have major long-term effects on all aspects of a child’s health, development and well-being.


2. Definition of Neglect

2.1 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. It may occur during pregnancy, for example as a result of maternal substance abuse, however 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)
  • ensure access to appropriate medical care or treatment (e.g. dental neglect can result in serious harm)
  • be responsive to a child's basic emotional needs


3. Omission versus Commission

3.1 The persistent failure to meet a child’s needs, for the most part, is an act of omission; whereby the care-giver struggles to provide effective care due to their own overriding circumstances or needs. However, in some instances, neglect of the child is a deliberate act (commission) in which the care-giver fails to take responsibility for the quality of care they provide, blaming the child rather than their own care provision. When examining aspects of neglect, omission and commission should be considered as this will determine the types of support and intervention that would be required.


4. Adolescent Neglect

4.1 Adolescent neglect can be a deliberate act where young people may be abandoned by parents or forced to leave home. Neglect can include parents not being aware of their child’s activities outside the home; not making sure they get health care when they need it; not taking an interest in their education; or failing to provide emotional support with problems or offering encouragement.


5. Obesity and Neglect

5.1 The failure to provide adequate food for a child is a neglectful act, however, this is often thought of as malnourishment through lack of food. It is important to consider failure to provide adequate food could result in a child becoming either underweight or overweight.

Childhood obesity can become a child protection concern if parents fail to provide their child adequate treatment or when parents behave in a way that actively promotes treatment failure, as with any chronic illness in a child.


6. Consequences of Neglect

6.1 The consequences of neglect can include an array of health and well-being problems including difficulties in forming attachments and relationships, lower educational achievements, an increased risk of substance misuse and a higher risk of experiencing abuse as well as difficulties in assuming parenting responsibilities later on in life.

6.2 The degree to which children are affected during their childhood and later life depends on the type, severity and frequency of the maltreatment and on what support mechanisms and coping strategies were available to the child.

6.3 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.


7. Factors that increase the risk

7.1 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.


8. Neglect Tools:


9. More Information: