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Child neglect

Firstly, thanks for coming this far. We want to reassure you that simply looking for advice about child neglect on these pages is completely anonymous, in accordance with our privacy statement and we hope you find some useful information here.

What is child neglect?

Child neglect is an ongoing failure to provide the right care and attention to a child's needs, including food and a safe environment, or to a child's emotional needs including warmth, security and love. A lack of these things are likely to result in serious damage to the child's health or development.

How do you know if a child is being neglected?

Neglect can lead to some obvious physical symptoms though often it can take years for emotional and psychological symptoms to become apparent. Some of the possible indicators could include the following, though they may also be symptoms of poverty and deprivation, not child neglect:

  • frequently going hungry
  • frequently having to go to school in dirty clothes
  • not being taken to the doctor when they're ill
  • regularly having to look after themselves at home alone under the age of 16
  • being abandoned or deserted
  • living in dangerous conditions ie around drugs, alcohol or violence
  • finding it difficult to adapt to school
  • children who are often angry, aggressive or self harm
  • children who find it difficult to socialise with other children

Why does it happen?

It is often not easy to pinpoint one specific reason why child neglect happens and in many cases it happens due to many factors and over a long period of time. Sadly, some parents may be repeating a pattern learned from their own parents. That's why Action for Children takes a long-term approach to helping a child and their carers to reverse the situation they find themselves in.

A number of studies have shown that there are some more common problems among adult carers that are associated with neglect of children. These include:

  • parental mental health problems such as depression
  • domestic violence
  • unemployment
  • poverty
  • substance abuse eg drugs or alcohol
  • parental history and learned parental behaviour
If you have an immediate concern about a child, you should contact the Social Care department provided by the council in your area who are available 24 hours a day. You can find your council's contact details online or in the phonebook.

If your concern is urgent, please call the police in your area or 999.

If you are concerned that a child may in fact be being abused but are unsure then it is still best to contact Social Care or the police and discuss your concerns with them. They are trained to recognise the signs of both child neglect and child abuse and will be able to help you accordingly.