Child abuse and neglect both leave serious scars behind, but in many cases, it’s harder to identify the signs of neglect. Ensuring that children receive the help that they need quickly increases their chance of healing, breaking the cycle of abuse and neglect. According to the American Humane Association, out of the children who experience maltreatment, 62.8% suffer from neglect. Out of children that die from child neglect or abuse, neglect is responsible for nearly half of those child fatalities. To prevent serious emotional and physical consequences, it’s important that cases of neglect are quickly reported. It’s important for communities to be familiar with neglect, the serious scars it leaves behind and the signs of child neglect.
What is Child Neglect?
The neglect of a child is defined as child maltreatment that involves the caregiver failing to provide the child age-appropriate, essential care, including clothing, education, food, supervision, clothing and medical care. Generally, this refers to a continuing pattern of inadequate care of the child and can be observed by people around the child or family. When it comes to younger children, relatives, physicians, neighbors, day care workers and nurses are most likely to notice the signs of neglect. However, once children are in school, teachers and other school personnel may notice the signs of neglect.
Different Types of Neglect
AmericanHumane.org notes that professionals break up neglect into four different categories, including emotional, educational, medical and physical neglect.
- Emotional Neglect – Emotional neglect involves failing to offer proper attention and care to a child psychologically or emotionally. This may include actions such as allowing children to use controlled substances, withholding affection from a child or regularly belittling a child. Extreme or chronic spousal abuse in the presence of a child is also considered emotional neglect. Behaviors that commonly fall under the label of emotional neglect include:
- Threating a child, terrorizing a child or playing on a child’s natural fears
- Regularly ignoring a child, failing to deal with the child’s need for protection, nurturing, stimulation and encouragement
- Assaulting a child verbally, calling them names or belittling them
- Rejecting a child or refusing to show the child affection
- Isolating the child, ensuring they don’t have normal contact with other people
- Encouraging children to use alcohol or drugs
- Encouraging children to engage in illegal actions
- Educational Neglect – Educational neglect of a child includes the parent’s or caregiver’s failure to ensure the child gets the education required, whether it is home schooling, school attendance or special education. Educational neglect has serious consequences and may result in the child regularly using disruptive behavior, dropping out of school or failure to acquire essential life skills. This type of neglect may include:
- Not allowing the child to attend school
- Failing to register a child in school
- Medical Neglect – Medical neglect includes failing to ensure that a child has appropriate health care in spite of being able to do so financially, when it places a child at risk of dying, disfigurement or being disabled. Only a small percentage of children are victims of medical neglect, but it may occur when parents refuse essential medical care for acute illnesses and in emergencies. While parents have the option to refuse certain types of medical care in certain cases, intervention may be necessary in the following cases:
- If a child with a chronic, life-threatening disease isn’t receiving the medical treatment needed
- If a child has a chronic disease that may result in disfigurement or disability if not treated
- Medical treatment is required in an emergency
- Physical Neglect – Physical neglect is the most common form of child neglect and involves the caregiver or parent failing to provide a child with essential necessities, such as shelter, clothing or food. Lack of supervision, expelling a child from the home or abandoning a child are also examples of physical neglect. Physical neglect results in serious consequences that may include serious illnesses, injuries, low self-esteem and malnutrition. Some examples of physical neglect include:
- Failing to ensure the child has adequate supervision
- Failing to provide clothing, shelter and food
- Requiring the child to care for others
- Leaving children alone for excessive time periods
Lasting Scars Left by Neglect
Children who suffer from abuse or neglect are often left with long-lasting scars. While physical scars may be left behind, the emotional scars prove most serious. According to HelpGuide.org, emotional scarring may result in the damage of a child’s ability to function at school or work, inability to be in healthy relationships and damage to a child’s self-esteem. The following are the most common lasting scars left behind by child abuse or neglect.
- Feeling Damaged or Worthless – When children are neglected emotionally, or even physically, they often begin to feel that they are worthless, no good or damaged. A child that has dealt with neglect often has a difficult time overcoming these feelings. When the child becomes an adult, he may feel that he isn’t worth a higher paying job or a higher education.
- Problems Expressing Emotions – Many neglected children have problems expressing their emotions. This often results in the suppression of emotions, and eventually, these emotions may come out in other ways. Sometimes adult survivors of neglect or abuse may deal with anger, depression or anxiety, and in some cases, they may use drugs or alcohol to deaden these feelings and emotions.
- Difficulty Forming Relationships – When children are not able to trust their parents to take care of them, they have a difficult time trusting other people later in life. The lack of trust results in difficulty forming relationships. In some cases, survivors of neglect may turn to unhealthy relationships because they cannot identify good relationships.
Of course, these are only a few of the consequences of child abuse and neglect. According to Childwelfare.gov, other serious consequences of neglect may include:
- Problems during adolescence, such as teen pregnancy or sexual promiscuity
- Cognitive and social difficulties
- Poor emotional and mental health
- Poor physical health
- Impaired brain development
- Adult criminality
- Juvenile delinquency
- Abuse or illegal drugs or alcohol, both as a child/adolescent and as an adult
- Abusive or aggressive behavior towards others
Recognizing the Signs of Neglect
Signs of child neglect are often a bit more difficult to notice than signs of child abuse. However, it’s important to know what signs to look for, and when multiple signs of neglect are seen, it’s important to take action. The following are some signs of neglect that may be seen in children and in their parents.
Signs of Neglect in a Child
- Lacks dental work, glasses or other types of medical care
- Hesitancy to trust other people, especially adults
- Steals or begs for money and food
- Unexplained developmental issues
- Regular absenteeism from school
- Fails to attend school in clothing appropriate for the weather
- Constant hunger or signs of being malnourished
- Self-destructive or self-harming behavior
- Body odor, dirty clothing or a dirty appearance
- Demands regular affection and attention
- Problems with impulse control
- The child abuses alcohol or illegal drugs
- Cares for the parent, role reversal between the child and parent
- Symptoms of fatigue, such as falling asleep regularly during class
- Changes in the child’s performance or behavior at school
- Problems concentrating when there are no specific psychological or physical causes apparent
- Comes to school or other types of activities extremely early
- The child does not want to go back home after school
- Abnormally passive, withdrawn or compliant behavior
- Abnormal lack of attachment to a parent or a caregiver
- Delayed emotional development
- Inappropriate infantile behavior
- Extremes in behavior
- The child says that there is no one at home to care for them
- The child admits to neglect
Signs of Neglect from a Parent
- Sees the child as a burden
- Displays little or no concern for a child
- States that they don’t like the child
- Blames the child for any problems that take place at home or school
- Looks to the child for attention or care
- Irrational or bizarre behavior
- Alcohol or drug abuse
- Shows indifference to the child
- Displays depressed or apathetic behavior
- Refuses to accept help for a child’s problems even when help is offered
If you are unaware of how to report a suspected problem of child abuse or neglect, visit Child Abuse Hotline at 800.4.A.CHILD. Reporting suspicions appropriate may help protect the child and ensure that the family receives the help they need. Remember, reporting suspected neglect is not accusing the parent, but is essentially a request for professionals to assess, evaluate and investigate the situation to decide of the family needs help.