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Health and Wellbeing
A Health and Well-being Wales Partner

The neglect or emotional neglect of a child or young person is the most common form of child abuse.

Neglect – also called ‘poor parenting’ – occurs when a parent or carer fails to meet their child’s basic needs on an ongoing basis, putting the child’s health, physical safety and emotional development at risk.

A child who is neglected may be left hungry or in dirty, inadequate clothing. Their medical needs may be ignored, or they may be put in danger or not protected from danger or harm.

A child who is emotionally neglected may be ignored, not spoken to or denied opportunities to interact with other children and adults.

When neglect is long-term and profound, it can lead to the child’s death. Neglected children are more likely to die in accidents and have been known to starve to death.

The neglect of a child has immediate and long-term consequences for its life chances.

How common is neglect?

Neglect is the most common reason for a child to be put on a child protection register in Wales.

A lot of neglect goes undetected, often because it is so difficult to detect, i.e. neglect is the result of what parents are NOT doing rather than what they are doing.

Not all neglect is intentional. Poor parenting can occur when the parent or carer does not have the practical, intellectual or emotional skills to look after their child properly.

Children who are neglected often live in homes where certain recognised risk factors are present, e.g. domestic abuse, parental mental health issues, poverty and poor housing.

Children who are neglected are frequently the victims of other kinds of abuse.

Recognising the signs of neglect

It’s not always easy to tell if a child is being neglected and the signs/symptoms will differ according to age.

The NSPCC lists some of the telltale signs as being:

  • dirty or inadequate clothing, e.g. no coat in winter
  • constant hunger 
  • frequent accidental injuries
  • rashes and bites
  • tiredness
  • failure to thrive, i.e. small for their age
  • poor language and social skills
  • living in unsuitable housing conditions
  • caring for others in the family.

For a full list visit the website.

None of these signs on its own means a child is being neglected – some may be health-related – but if you notice several of these signs it could indicate there is a problem.

What to do if you suspect a child is being neglected

Safeguarding children is everyone’s responsibility – and that includes the child’s extended family, friends and neighbours and professionals, e.g. teachers, health professionals.

Early intervention is important to prevent the neglect affecting the child’s long-term well-being and life chances.

If you suspect a child or young person is being neglected – even if you are not 100% certain – you must report your concerns immediately (you do not need to leave your name).

Ring the police on 101 or contact your council’s Local Safeguarding Team. In an emergency, call 999.

Your call could save a child’s life.

Last updated: 26/02/2018