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Child neglect, is a category of maltreatment related to child abuse, when the biological parent(s) or legally assigned adult(s) fail to provide for the proper physical care needs of their dependent children.

Neglect is the persistent failure to meet a child's basic physical and/or psychological needs, in a way that is likely to seriously damage their health or development. In pregnancy, this can happen as a result of maternal substance misuse. Neglect may involve failing to:

  • provide adequate food, clothing and shelter, including exclusion of the child from home or abandoning them
  • protect a child from physical and emotional harm or danger
  • ensure adequate supervision, including the use of inadequate care-givers
  • ensure access to appropriate medical care or treatment.
  • teach children the basic skills for example self care skills, social skills


The neglect of children is generally about three times more common than physical abuse and about six times more common than sexual abuse. (These numbers are available yearly from the United States Centers for Disease Control, where these statistics are compiled.)

Signs of child neglect

Neglect is often seen as less serious than other forms of child abuse, but its effects can be very damaging. Children who are neglected often develop more slowly than others and find it hard to make friends and fit in with their peer group, though again this can be for other reasons, such as autistic spectrum disorders.

the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) in the UK identified these signs as cause for concern

Physical signs

  • being in an unkempt state, and frequently dirty or smelly
  • loss of weight or being constantly underweight
  • often being dressed inappropriately for the weather conditions
  • untreated medical conditions – not being taken for medical treatment for illnesses or injuries.
  • Failure to thrive

Behavioural signs

  • being constantly hungry and sometimes stealing food from others
  • being tired all the time
  • frequently missing school or being late
  • failing to keep hospital or medical appointments
  • having few friends
  • being left alone or unsupervised on a regular basis.

Consequences of neglect

Neglect has many consequences for the child. He or she may find attachment to others - especially close personal relationships with other people - particularly difficult[citation needed]. A child may also find it easy to become too dependent on positive role models, holding them to be whiter than white due to the contrast between the new person and the memories from neglect.  

Studies of neglected children

Animal studies

Experimental studies with young animals looking at such variables as malnutritionmaternal deprivation, social isolation and paternal absence have helped us understand some of the mechanisms that underpin the failure to thrive and other psychological and physical consequences of neglect.

See also

References & Bibliography

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