Neglect matters - how to watch out for the warning signs

editorial image

As part of the NSPCC and Bedfordshire Local Safeguarding Boards’ Neglect Matters Campaign, the NSPCC’s Local Campaigns Manager Emma Motherwell talks about neglect, how it affects young people, and the warning signs we can all look out for.

There’s a wise old African proverb that says, ‘It takes a village to raise a child’. But when it comes to spotting and reporting youth neglect, it takes a community to protect a child too.

Neglect is the ongoing failure to meet a child’s basic needs and is the most common form of child abuse in Bedfordshire.

When a child is being neglected by their parent or carer, it is up to members of the community to spot the signs – that could be anyone at all who comes into contact with that child.

So, what does neglect look like? A child that is neglected may be left hungry or dirty, without adequate clothing, shelter, supervision, medical or health care. They may be put in danger or not protected from physical or emotional harm. They may not get the love, care and attention they need from their parents.

There are four different types of neglect: Physical, Educational, Emotional and Mental. Physical neglect means failing to provide for a child’s basic needs such as food, clothing or shelter. It can also mean that a child is not being adequately supervised which could affect their safety.

Educational neglect, quite simply, means failing to ensure a child receives an education, while emotional neglect is when a carer doesn’t meet a child’s needs for nurture, perhaps by ignoring, humiliating, intimidating or isolating them.

Medical neglect is failing to provide appropriate health care, including dental care and refusal of care or ignoring medical recommendations.

Crucially, neglect is dangerous for a child; it can have serious and long-lasting effects, and a child who's neglected will often suffer from other abuse as well.

Neglect is a feature in six out of ten Serious Case Reviews, which happen when a child dies or is seriously injured and abuse is believed to have been a factor. It is also the most common reason for a child to be on a child protection plan in England (45 per cent).

In 2016/17, the NSPCC Helpline dealt with a record number of calls about neglect in Bedfordshire.

The positives represented by this rise in callers shows there’s more awareness of the issue, so more people are speaking up and reporting it.

But we believe the full scale of the problem could be much greater, and more needs to be done to protect children who are at risk of coming to harm because they are being neglected.

What can you be on the lookout for? There’s no definite checklist, but the persistent combination of a range of things may be a cause for concern. Children who are being neglected will often behave unusually. They might be withdrawn, anxious or aggressive, they might have trouble sleeping, wet the bed or have nightmares. Their eating habits might noticeably change, or they might be missing school, wearing dirty clothes, drinking or taking drugs.

These are just a handful of examples of the warning signs, and it is why it is so important for anyone suspecting a child of being neglected to contact the NSPCC Helpline, so we can alert the authorities to quickly step in and help those in need. 

It is so important that we work together to understand the true nature and scale of child neglect in Bedfordshire, so we can tackle the causes and reach out to young people who need our help.

Adults can contact the NSPCC Helpline 24 hours a day, 365 days a year on 0808 800 5000, or help@nspcc.org.uk