Neglect is the most prevalent form of abuse in the UK with almost half of all children being on child protection plans for neglect.

The NSPCC suggest that 1 in 10 children have experienced neglect.  Neglect can be life threatening and should be treated with as much urgency as other categories of abuse.

We often intervene too slowly with neglect, sometimes because no single incident acts as a trigger, instead neglect builds up over time.  At other times referrals are made to other agencies and perhaps are not taken sufficiently seriously. We need to understand the cumulative effects of neglect and actively review the concerns to understand the level of harm caused.


“Neglect is the persistent failure to meet a child’s basic physical and psychological needs. It is likely to result in the serious impairment of the child’s health or development.”

(KSIE 2018)

Neglect is the most common form of abuse and can have a serious and long-term impact on the child. Children who suffer neglect may also suffer from other forms of abuse as well.

Sometimes it is because parents/carers won’t look after their children and sometimes because they are unable to. Neglect may occur during pregnancy as a result of maternal substance misuse.

Neglect may involve the failure of the parent/carer to provide adequate food, clothing and shelter, including the exclusion of the child from the home. It may also be the parent/carer failing to protect a child from emotional harm or danger and/or failing to provide adequate supervision (including the use of inadequate carers).

The failure of the parent/carer to provide access to appropriate medical care or treatment are also considered to be forms of neglect.

Neglect is the most common form of abuse but also one of the most difficult to recognise as there is often no single sign and so professionals wait for a pattern of neglect to build up over time.

Spotting the signs and symptoms


Physical indicators:

• Constant hunger
• Poor personal hygiene
• Poor dental health
• Skin rashes, lice etc
• Constant tiredness
• Inadequate and/or dirty ill- fitting clothing
• Untreated medical problems
• Under/overweight

Behaviour indicators:

• Social isolation
• Low self-esteem
• Frequent lateness or nonattendance at school
• Missed medical /dental appointments
• Destructive tendencies
• Poor relationships with peers
• Compulsive stealing/scavenging

Some vulnerabilities include:

  • parents/carers out of the house for prolonged periods
  • poverty
  • parents/carers with substance/alcohol misuse issues
  • parents/carers with mental health issues or disabilities
  • children with disabilities
  • children being left on their own for prolonged periods or being left in the care of siblings or unsuitable carers

There are four types of neglect:

  • educational – not ensuring the child receives/attends appropriate education
  • physical -failure to provide for basic needs e.g. food, shelter or ensure safety
  • emotional – failure to meet a child’s need for stimulation or nurture/love. This overlaps with emotional abuse and may involve ignoring, intimidating or humiliating the child.
  • medical – a failure to ensure a child receives appropriate medical care, including dental care, or ignoring medical advice. It includes the failure of the parent/carer to take their child to appointments.

(Horwath, J. (2007) Child neglect: identification and assessment. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.)

What you can do

Create an environment based on quality and informed choice – help young people think about the issues and attitudes behind poverty, particularly in relation to equality. Create aspiration and opportunity through high quality teaching, while being aware of the limits and pressures on families, children and young people.

  • be aware of the effects of child poverty
  • support pupils and families
  • sign-post to supportive services
  • any concerns should be raised with the designated safeguarding lead

Consider how vulnerabilities might impact on individuals – think about the increased risk of exploitation and the barriers in place to attainment or to making safe decisions. Talk to children in advance about holiday periods and assess the risks of ‘holiday hunger’, loneliness and neglect. Recognise the stresses around key times of year such as the commercial pressures around Christmas.

Check young people have safe relationships – in their family, with their peers and with your staff. Create the environment where it is OK to talk, even about the most difficult things.

Spot the signs and know what to do – use the checklists above, your safeguarding procedures and be confident to raise neglect as a possibility. Take action – and keep taking action until you know they are safe.


  • Growing up neglected: a multi-agency response to older children

    A report by Ofsted and the other inspectorates highlights neglected adolescents are not receiving the support they need.

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  • Training resources for DSLs to use in team meetings
  • Reference documents for additional information
  • Handout for school staff summarising neglect
  • Quiz to test staff understanding
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