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Neglect is the persistent failure to meet a child’s basic physical and/or psychological needs, likely to result in the serious impairment of the child’s
health or development. Neglect may occur during pregnancy as a result of maternal substance abuse.

Once a child is born, neglect may involve a parent or carer failing to:

  • provide adequate food, clothing and shelter (including exclusion from home or abandonment)
  • protect a child from physical and emotional harm or danger
  • ensure adequate supervision (including the use of inadequate care-givers); or
  • ensure access to appropriate medical care or treatment.

It may also include neglect of, or unresponsiveness to, a child’s basic emotional needs.

Indicators of neglect in the child:

Physical presentation

  • Failure to thrive or, in older children, short stature
  • Underweight
  • Frequent hunger
  • Dirty, unkempt condition
  • Inadequately clothed, clothing in a poor state of repair
  • Red/purple mottled skin, particularly on the hands and feet, seen in the winter due to cold
  • Swollen limbs with sores that are slow to heal, usually associated with cold injury
  • Abnormal voracious appetite
  • Dry, sparse hair
  • Recurrent/untreated infections or skin conditions e.g. severe nappy rash, eczema or persistent head lice/scabies/diarrhoea
  • Unmanaged/untreated health/medical conditions including poor dental health
  • Frequent accidents or injuries


  • General delay, especially speech and language delay
  • Inadequate social skills and poor socialisation

Emotional/behavioural presentation

  • Attachment disorders
  • Absence of normal social responsiveness
  • Indiscriminate behaviour in relationships with adults
  • Emotionally needy
  • Compulsive stealing
  • Constant tiredness
  • Frequently absent or late at school
  • Poor self esteem
  • Destructive tendencies
  • Thrives away from home environment
  • Aggressive and impulsive behaviour
  • Disturbed peer relationships
  • Self harming behaviour

Indicators in the parent

  • Dirty, unkempt presentation
  • Inadequately clothed
  • Inadequate social skills and poor socialisation
  • Abnormal attachment to the child .e.g. anxious
  • Low self esteem and lack of confidence
  • Failure to meet the basic essential needs e.g. adequate food, clothes, warmth, hygiene
  • Failure to meet the child’s health and medical needs e.g. poor dental health; failure to attend or keep appointments with health visitor, GP or hospital; lack of GP registration; failure to seek or comply with appropriate medical treatment; failure to address parental substance misuse during pregnancy
  • Child left with adults who are intoxicated or violent
  • Child abandoned or left alone for excessive periods
  • Wider parenting difficulties, may (or may not) be associated with this form of abuse

Indicators in the family/environment

  • History of neglect in the family
  • Family marginalised or isolated by the community.
  • Family has history of mental health, alcohol or drug misuse or domestic violence.
  • History of unexplained death, illness or multiple surgery in parents and/or siblings of the family
  • Family has a past history of childhood abuse, self harm, somatising disorder or false allegations of physical or sexual assault or a culture of physical chastisement.
  • Dangerous or hazardous home environment including failure to use home safety equipment; risk from animals
  • Poor state of home environment e.g. unhygienic facilities, lack of appropriate sleeping arrangements, inadequate ventilation (including passive smoking) and lack of adequate heating
  • Lack of opportunities for child to play and learn

Updates and changes


These pages are updated regularly and should be used as the main source of information.  Printed versions should be used with care as they can become out of date.