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Child Neglect

Child neglect is a very common type of child abuse

It is a pattern of failing to provide for a child's basic needs, whether it be adequate food, clothing, hygiene, or supervision.


Child neglect is not always easy to spot.  Sometimes, a parent might become physically or mentally unable to care for a child, such as with a serious injury, untreated depression, or anxiety. Other times, alcohol or drug abuse may seriously impair judgment and the ability to keep a child safe.


Older children might not show outward signs of neglect, as they become used to presenting good face to the outside world, and even taking on the role of the parent, but at the end of the day, neglected children are not getting their physical and emotional needs met.


Warning signs of neglect in children

  • Clothes are ill-fitting, filthy, or inappropriate for the weather.

  • Hygiene is consistently bad (unbathed, matted and unwashed hair, noticeable body odor).

  • Untreated illnesses and physical injuries.

  • Is frequently unsupervised or left alone or allowed to play in unsafe situations and environments.

  • Is frequently late or missing from school.

The Science of Neglect
Extensive biological and developmental research shows significant neglect -the ongoing disruption or significant absence of caregiver responsiveness - can cause more lasting harm to a child’s development than overt physical abuse.

This includes subsequent cognitive delays, impairments in executive functioning, and disruptions of the body’s stress response.


This 6-minute video provides an overview of The Science of Neglect: The Persistent Absence of Responsive Care Disrupts the Developing Brain, a Working Paper from the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child.

Effects of child abuse and neglect

All types of child abuse and neglect leave lasting scars. Some of these scars might be physical, but emotional scarring has long lasting effects throughout life, damaging a child’s sense of self, ability to have healthy relationships, and ability to function at home, at work and at school.

Some effects include:

Lack of trust and relationship difficulties.   

If you can’t trust your parents, who can you trust? Abuse by a primary caregiver damages the most fundamental relationship as a child—that you will safely, reliably get your physical and emotional needs met by the person who is responsible for your care. Without this base, it is very difficult to learn to trust people or know who is trustworthy. This can lead to difficulty maintaining relationships due to fear of being controlled or abused. It can also lead to unhealthy relationships because the adult doesn’t know what a good relationship is.  
Core feelings of being “worthless” or “damaged. 

”If you’ve been told over and over again as a child that you are stupid or no good, it is very difficult to overcome these core feelings. You may experience them as reality. Adults may not strive for more education, or settle for a job that may not pay enough, because they don’t believe they can do it or are worth more. Sexual abuse survivors, with the stigma and shame surrounding the abuse, often especially struggle with a feeling of being damaged.

Trouble regulating emotions.  
Abused children cannot express emotions safely. As a result, the emotions get stuffed down, coming out in unexpected ways. Adult survivors of child abuse can struggle with unexplained anxiety, depression, or anger. They may turn to alcohol or drugs to numb out the painful feelings.

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