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Child Neglect: what to look for and what to do

Neglect is the persistent failure to meet a child’s basic and essential needs. Children need adequate food, water, shelter, warmth, protection and health care and they need their carers to be attentive, dependable and kind.

Nearly 1 in 10 children are neglected by their parents, causing serious and long-term damage. There are many signs that may indicate neglect.

If your instincts tell you that something is wrong then you should take action.

Why are children neglected?

There are many reasons why child neglect happens. Some adults:

  • find it difficult to organise their lives, leading to a chaotic home life for children
  • do not understand the needs of their children, possibly because they did not receive adequate parenting themselves
  • find it difficult to show their feelings, neglecting their child’s emotional needs

Children at risk of neglect

Some children are more vulnerable to neglect, such as children who are in care, seeking asylum or who live in families with cases of domestic abuse, drug or alcohol misuse or with parents with mental health problems.

What you should do

None of the signs outlined here would indicate for certain that a child is being neglected – busy family homes are often untidy or in need of a vacuum; children get nits and their clothes become dirty. But children who are severely and persistently neglected may be in danger.

If you think a child is in immediate danger Contact the police on 999, or Children’s Triage

If you’re worried about a child, but unsure
Deciding if a child is neglected can be very hard – even for a trained social worker – and it’s natural to worry that you may be mistaken.

Some parents and carers simply need more resources and support to properly care for their children, but some have more complex problems. In both cases they need help from professionals.

DO: offer support to the parent or carer if you feel that the situation in less serious and you can talk to them.

DON’T: put yourself at risk. If you think that you may make matters worse.


What to look out for:
signs and symptoms of neglect

Neglect can have a debilitating and long-lasting effect on a child’s physical wellbeing, and on their mental, emotional and behavioural development. In some cases the effects can cause permanent disabilities and, in severe cases, death.

Signs that a child could be suffering from neglect include:

  • living in an inadequate home environment
  • being left alone for a long time
  • being persistently ignored by parents or carers
  • poor appearance and delayed development
  • taking on the role of carer for other family members.

Physical effects of neglect may include:

  • poor muscle tone/prominent joints
  • poor skin: sores, rashes, flea bites
  • thin or swollen tummy
  • poor hygiene, like being dirty or smelly
  • untreated health problems, such as bad teeth
  • unwashed clothing
  • inadequate clothing, like not having a coat in winter

Emotional and behavioural effects may include:

  • difficulties with school work
  • missing school
  • being anxious about, or avoiding, people
  • difficulty in making friends
  • being withdrawn
  • anti-social behaviour
  • early sexual activity
  • drug or alcohol misuse

Take Action If you think a child is in immediate danger, contact the Police on 999

Graded Care Profile Tool:

Newham Safeguarding Children Partnership has rolled out training to the Universal Services of the Graded Care Profile which is a tool for measuring the quality of care being provided to children by their parent/carers.  This tool is licensed from the NSPCC and aims to:

• Help professionals manage and monitor their caseloads more effectively

• Direct the right support to the families who need it most

Key practitioners who undertake home visits as part of an assessments or interventions. This includes staff from the following services: Children’s Centres, Early Help Practitioners in Schools and College Safeguarding leads, Education and Attendance case workers, Family support workers, Health Visitors, School Nurse, Social Workers, Families First Coaches, LAC and LC, Police officers and Youth Offending Team workers; Adult staff where relevant, attend  1 day accredited training to use the tool.  The experience of practitioners and families where the tool has been used are monitor to establish the impact that the use of the tool has made to such families.

Access to the

  • Guidance and Theory
  • Guide for Parents

Is available following the training.

If you are interested in finding out more please email

» NSCP Neglect Strategy 2020

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