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Neglect is the ongoing failure to meet a child’s basic and essential needs, and is the most common form of child abuse. Children need adequate food, water, shelter, warmth, protection from physical harm and danger, health care, and carers who are attentive and dependable in providing these needs.

If these aren’t provided, this is neglect. Neglect can also include lack of responsiveness to a child’s basic emotional needs.

There are four broad types of neglect:

  • Physical neglect is where a child’s basic needs (e.g. food, shelter, clothing) are not met or the child isn’t kept safe.
  • Emotional neglect involves a parent or carer failing to provide the nurture and stimulation they require.
  • Educational neglect is when a parent or carer doesn’t ensure that a child is properly educated.
  • Medical neglect involves a child not being given proper health care and dental care.

Neglect can put children and young people in danger and can also have longer-term effects on their physical and mental wellbeing, including:

Neglect can often become an issue when parents are dealing with complex problems, sometimes including domestic abuse, substance misuse, mental health issues, social-economic issues or they may have been poorly looked after themselves. These problems can have a direct impact on parents’ ability to meet their child’s needs. Even when parents are struggling with other personal issues they have a responsibility to care for their child or seek help if they are unable to parent adequately.

Signs of Neglect

Knowing the signs of neglect can help to give a voice to children. Any child can suffer neglect, although some may be more vulnerable than others. When families go through a tough time (e.g. experiencing relationship problems, financial hardship, poverty, mental health issues, addiction to drugs or alcohol), parents or carers may struggle to maintain a loving home for their child. Children more vulnerable also include children who are born prematurely, have a disability or have complex health needs, are in care, or are seeking asylum.

Neglect can be very difficult to notice as having one of the signs doesn’t mean that a child is experiencing neglect. You might be able to tell that there is a serious problem if a child display multiple signs over an extended period of time.

Signs of neglect include:

  • Being frequently absent from school
  • Inappropriate clothing (e.g. shoes too small, clothes are ill-fitted or unsuitable for the weather conditions)
  • Clothes are consistently dirty or smelly
  • Being hungry
  • Hands are cold, red and swollen
  • Unkempt appearance and poor hygiene; hair quality is poor or is messy, teeth are dirty, skin dirty
  • Lacking necessary medical or dental care, including immunisations or glasses
  • Missing medical appointments
  • Health problems, including anaemia, body issues, poor muscle tone or prominent joints, regular illness of infections, repeated accidental injuries (often cause by lack of supervision), skin issues (e.g. sores, rashes, flea bites, scabies, ringworm), thin or swollen tummy, weight or growth issues, untreated injuries
  • Developmental problems, including poor language or social skills
  • Frequent and untreated nappy rash in infants
  • Being constantly underweight or considerably losing weight
  • The parent or carer has failed to keep the child protected from physical harm or danger
  • Begging or stealing things like money or food
  • Living in an unsuitable environment (e.g. no heating, messy)
  • Being left home alone for long periods of time
  • Taking on the role of a carer for other family members
  • Changes in behaviour, such as becoming clingy, aggressive, withdrawn, depressed or anxious, displaying obsessive behaviour
  • Changes in eating habits
  • Using drugs or alcohol
  • Self-harm or attempts at suicide

Effects of Neglect

Neglect changes childhood, and children who have been neglected can experience many short-term and long-term effects, including:

  • Accidental injuries
  • Taking risks like running away from home, using drugs, or breaking the law
  • Difficulty with relationships later in life or getting into dangerous relationships
  • Disability
  • Poor physical health
  • Poor emotional and psychological development
  • Lack of self-esteem
  • Mental health problems, including depression and anxiety
  • Self-harm and attempts at suicide
  • Death

A child being neglected may also be suffering from other forms of abuse.

The Graded Care Profile: A Neglect Assessment Tool

The Graded Care Profile (GCP) is a widely used neglect assessment tool used by social workers to assess whether a child is at risk of neglect. The GCP helps to measure the quality of care being given to a child in respect of four domains of care:

  • Physical care
  • Safety
  • Affection/Love
  • Esteem

The tool, adopted by Dr Leon Polnay and Dr O P Srivastava (Bedfordshire and Luton Community NHS Trust and Luton Borough Council), gives an objective measure of the quality of care delivered to a child by grading against each domain, taking into consideration the effort and commitment shown by the parent or carer.

The GCP tool allows for areas of concern to be identified so that the family or carer can be supported appropriately.

Click here to see our neglect strategy.

If you are concerned about a child, please contact Front Door For Families on 01403 229900,, or use their Online Referral Form.