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What is child neglect?

Neglect is the most common form of child maltreatment. Neglect is when a parent, guardian, or other caregiver does not provide for a child’s basic needs. Neglect includes not providing food, shelter, supervision, health care, schooling, affection or support.

How do you recognize child neglect?

Child neglect can be characterized by both physical and emotional characteristics as listed below:

Physical Signs

  • Poor hygiene and/or odor
  • Inappropriately dressed for weather
  • Unmet medical or dental care needs
  • Young children left alone and unsupervised for long periods of time
  • Failure to thrive
  • malnutrition
  • Constant hunger, may beg or steal for food
  • Acts as a parent to his/her siblings
  • Arrives early and stays late at school, play areas, or other people’s homes

Emotional Signs

  • Extreme willingness to please
  • Oldest child has a parental relationship with his/her siblings
  • Is always watchful, as though waiting for something bad to happen
  • Has learning problems (or problems concentrating) that cannot be attributed to specific psychological or physical causes

Children who have been neglected may have problems with emotional attachment, low self-esteem, anger and school.

What do you do when you suspect a child is being neglected?

Any kind of child abuse is against the law and has serious effects on victims. If you are suspect that a child is being abused, call your county child protective services agency.

Early intervention in child neglect helps a child heal faster, and reduces the long-term effects of the abuse on the child. Remember—when a child tells you about abuse, he or she is using a tremendous amount of courage, and is looking to you for help.

When a child tells you that he or she is being neglected, you should:

Avoid denial and remain calm. A common response to the disturbing news of neglect is denial. However, if you exhibit denial to a child, or become upset, the child will read your reactions and may be afraid to continue. Although it is hard, be as calm and supportive as you can.

Don’t interrogate.  Let the child explain what happened in his or her own words to you, but do not interrogate the child or ask questions that direct a child towards a certain answer. This may confuse and upset the child or make it hard for him or her to continue telling you what happened.

Reassure the child that he/she did nothing wrong. It takes a lot of courage for a child to come forward about abuse. Reassure him or her that it is not their fault and that you believe what he/she is telling you.

Call your local child protective services agency. It is better that you do not handle the situation on your own. Contact your county child protective services agency.

Helping a child heal

You can help a child recover from neglect. Here are a few tips for helping a child, and further resources are at the bottom of the page:

  • Remind the child of his/her strengths. Being good at art, sports, school or being a good friend are all forms of strengths.
  • Encourage a child to be creative. Have them make up a story, draw a picture, or engage in a positive activity.
  • Teach them to take initiative

Content Credit: Kid’s Matter Inc.