Child neglect is a form of child abuse and is a deficit in meeting a child’s basic needs. The UK government’s statutory guidance ‘Working together to safeguard children’, defines neglect as:
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.
It can occur in different ways, some of which are harder to spot than others. As teachers, it is our duty to be aware of signs of neglect as well as to know what actions to take if something is noticed. Recognising neglect is also highly subjective especially in an international school setting, where people have different notions of what good or bad parenting entails.
A child can experience neglect at any age and it can start at any time. Regardless of a child’s age, neglect means that parents or guardians are not meeting their child’s needs. It is highly damaging at every stage of a child or young person’s life and it can have serious repercussions on adult life, affecting relationships and a person’s capacity to parent their own children. It can affect and damage children in all the key developmental areas such as: physical, cognitive, emotional and social development.
Research has shown that neglect adversely affects the development of neural pathways in the brain, even in babies. A neglected child may not be exposed to the stimulation required to activate important regions of the brain and strengthen cognitive pathways. Instead, the neural connections can literally wither away, hampering the child’s functioning in later life. As a result, the brain may become ‘wired’ to experience the world as hostile or uncaring and influence the child’s later interactions, prompting them to become anxious and overly aggressive or emotionally withdrawn and depressed.
In the UK a study of 555 families referred to children’s social care about concerns of neglect or emotional neglect of the children:
• 10% had five or more house moves in the previous five years
• 26% of parents and 24 percent of children had a disability or long-term serious illness
• 47% of households were headed by a lone parent
• 56% of parents reported high levels of emotional stress
• 57% had no wage earner in the household
• 59% lived in over-crowded housing conditions
The signs of neglect may be more evident in poorer families, however, that does not go to say that it cannot be seen in more affluent families.
Here, it may take a different form and parents may:
- allow the child all the latest IT and ‘gadgets’ and abandon them to these ‘material’ goods
- withdraw their interest in the child’s education as they may feel they pay the school to educate their child and withdraw from input
- allow babysitters, maids, nannies, drivers and in some cultures, extended family members, to take over the parenting of the child and have very little input into the child’s development
If you are concerned about a child or young person, it is imperative that you speak to someone you can trust within your setting. Your school will have a person with designated responsibility for safeguarding and this is the person you should talk to.
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Till next time…