Experiences of neglect

Ways in which children and young people can experience neglect

Source: Community Care Inform Research Resource

This information can also be downloaded in grid format from the documents section below.

Infancy: 0-2 years

Medical
Includes failure to notice that a baby is unwell, and failure to seek medical treatment. Not attending routine health screening appointments may be indicative.
Nutritional
Under-nourishment leads to restricted growth and brain development. There can be a link between neglect and obesity, e.g. if parents use sweets as ‘pacifiers’.
Emotional
Lack of stimulation can prevent babies from ‘fixing’ neural connections. Infant attachments are damaged by neglect, which makes learning skills more difficult
Educational
Some parts of the brain, e.g. cortex, are dependent on experience and stimulation to develop. Language relies on reinforcement and feedback from carers.
Physical
Dirty home conditions may affect infant immune system; lack of changing and nappy rash; lack of encouragement may delay skill development.
Lack of supervision
Babies should be supervised at all times, particularly when lying on surfaces they could fall from or in the bath. If babies feel abandoned, this can affect the development of attachments.

Pre-school: 2-4 years

Medical
May include missed health and dental appointments, and failure to seek medical treatment following accidents or for routine conditions such as head lice or squints.
Nutritional
Not eating 1200 – 1500 calories per day, and/ or unregulated amounts of fat and sugar in the diet, which can lead to heart problems, obesity and tooth decay.
Emotional
Neglected children without a secure attachment may experience difficulties playing with their peers, sharing feelings and thoughts, coping with frustration and developing empathy.
Educational
Neglect can be a significant factor in delaying a child’s language development e.g. through the amount and quality of interactions with carers. This delay affects their education.
Physical
Child may present as dirty or malnourished, and living conditions may be poor. Child may not have been toilet trained, sleeping sufficiently or have adequate boundaries.
Lack of supervision
Home may lack safety devices e.g. stair gates, dangerous items such as drugs or knives may be within reach, child may not have appropriate car seat; child may be left home alone.

Primary: 5-11 years

Medical
Children may have more infections and illnesses than their peers due to poor treatment, or lack of prevention e.g. through hand washing, good diet or adequate sleep.
Nutritional
Food isn’t provided consistently, leading to unregulated diets of biscuits and sweets. Concerns should not just focus on weight; children of normal weight could still have unhealthy diets.
Emotional
Insecure attachment styles can lead to children having difficulties forming relationships, and may express their frustration at not having friends through disruptive behaviour.
Educational
Neglected children can experience a number of disadvantages at school, including low educational aspirations, lack of encouragement for learning and language stimulation.
Physical
Ill-fitting, inadequate or dirty clothing, poor personal hygiene, lack of sleep, lack of routines or boundaries which can lead to frustration with school rules and boundaries.
Lack of supervision
Primary school children may be left home alone after school, or expected to supervise younger children. They may be left to play outside alone or to cook meals without supervision.

Adolescent: 12+ years

Medical
Poor self-esteem and recklessness can lead to ignoring or enduring health problems rather than accessing services. There may also be risk-taking behaviour e.g. in sexual activity.
Nutritional
Adolescents may be able to find food, but lack of nutritious food and limited cooking experience can lead them to unhealthy snacks, which affects both health and educational outcomes.
Emotional
Peer groups and independence are important at this age; young people who are isolated by neglect (e.g. through poor hygiene) will struggle. Conflict with carers may also increase.
Educational
Likely to experience cognitive impairment e.g. in managing emotion, challenging behaviour in school. Low confidence and academic failure can reinforce negative self- image.
Physical
Adolescents’ social development is likely to be affected by their living conditions, inadequate clothing, poor hygiene and body odour. This can affect their self-esteem.
Lack of supervision
Neglected adolescents may stay out all night with carers not aware of their whereabouts, which can lead to opportunities for risk- taking behaviours that can result in serious injury.