NUMBER 808 • 17 AUGUST • NEGLECT
Neglect is the failure to protect a child from exposure to any kind of danger, or persistent failure to carry out important aspects of care. Neglect is widely recognised as the most common form of child maltreatment and involves serious deficiencies in parents' or caretakers' provision of attention, stimulation,emotional availability, food, clothing, shelter, hygiene, nutrition, supervision, medical care or education that may result in actual or potential harm to the child (Gaudin, 1993; Gaudin et aI., 1996; Black & Dubowitz, 1999; Crittenden, 1999; English, 1999; Zuravin, 1999; Iwaniec & McSherry, 2002).
Because neglected children are not seen as frequently as is necessary for adequate child care and health supervision, their health problems may be recognised later, necessary medical treatment postponed or not given, and immunisations not given or delayed, all of which predispose children to poor health (Johnson, 1993; Dubowitz, 1999). Neglect can also have deleterious effects on the management of chronic childhood health outcomes, many of which require adherence to demanding treatment regimens to ensure optimal health. Neglected children have been shown to have behavioural problems and conduct disorders, problems in social relationships and less competent behaviour. They stand out among their peers for their diminished self-esteem, lack of confidence, general unhappiness and low school achievement (Kendall-Tackett & Eckenrode, 1996; Kendall-Tackett, 1997). They tend to be passive and exhibit some of the characteristics of learned helplessness, although angry outbursts and noncompliance are also characteristic of neglected children. Some have suggested that neglect is more likely to victimise younger children than adolescents because older children are less exclusively dependent on their caregivers for the physical, nutritional, medical and other kinds of care they need (Mraovich & Wilson, 1999). However, older children who are abandoned and adolescents who are literally thrown out of their homes constitute an increasing concern among the population of neglected children (Browne & Falshaw, 1998).
Table 4. Characteristics of active rejection and passive neglect (
shaming the child
Active rejection Angry and hostile response to child's distress (e.g. crying, being upset, sad, withdrawn)
Hostile interaction, commanding instead of requesting, screaming at the child, frequent telling off,
Keeping physical distance (not picking up, sitting on the lap, cuddling, touching, etc.)
Never satisfied with the child's performance
Never showing pleasure in child's achievement (praising)
periods of time, locking in the cupboards, pantry, shed, cruel punishment (depriving of food, treats like sweets, crisps, etc.)
Punitive discipline, smacking for minor misbehaviour, putting child to different room for long
Never playing or including the child in different activities
Distancing the child from the rest of the family and peer group
Passive neglect (physical and emotional)
Child is not dressed properly
Child is not washed, bathed, is dirty and smelly
Lack of routine in sleeping, eating, etc.
Child is not fed regularly or given right food
Lack of adequate protection (fire, water, dangerous objects)
Child is left alone
Not responding to child's signals of distress
Lack of stimulation (picking up, talking to, playing with)
Intervention in cases of physical neglect may focus on economic assistance to families and also in parent training or parental education programmes. Quite often emotional abuse and neglect are referred to together and yet they are different in nature, both as far as parental behaviour is concerned and the impact on the child (see Table 4). Emotional abuse involves active parental hostility, inducing pain, anxiety and fear in the child, whereas neglect refers to passive omission of parental psychological nurturing, availability, lack of interest in the child, and absence of attention and stimulation.
Sneddon, H. (2003) The Effects of Maltreatment on Children's Health and Well-Being. Child Care in Practice, Vol. 9, No.3 pp 243-245