The NSPCC’s Local Campaigns Manager Emma Motherwell talks about how neglect can have an impact on a child’s physical health, and how this can affect their lives long-term…
Physical neglect is a type of maltreatment which happens when parents or carers can't or won't provide for the physical needs of their child with age-appropriate care.
A child needs basic physical care such as warmth, shelter, adequate food and rest, grooming and protection from danger.
If these needs aren’t being met, it’s unsurprising that this can jeopardize a child’s physical health.
Children who have been neglected can experience short-term and long-term health problems, and some that might that last throughout their life.
Neglect often is an act of omission; but neglecting children’s needs can be just as damaging as other forms of abuse. Tragically, neglect is a factor in 60 per cent of serious case reviews, which happen when a child dies or is seriously injured due to maltreatment.
Sometimes, physical neglect will cause noticeable symptoms. From untreated injuries to persistent illness, neglect can mean a child’s physical health will be conspicuously below that of their peers.
Neglected young people will often miss medical appointments, such as GP visits for vaccinations.
They might have injuries or medical issues that are left untreated, or poor dental health and hygiene.
This is called medical neglect, and parents who do this sometimes refuse medical care for their children or ignore recommendations suggested by doctors or nurses.
Neglected children may repeatedly sustain accidental injuries, which could be a sign they are often left unsupervised, or they may get recurring illnesses or infections, for which they are not given the appropriate medicines to treat them, and could be exacerbated by unsuitable clothing. They may
also be noticeably tired on a regular basis.
Some neglected children are malnourished, due to not having enough of the right food.
Malnourished children could have poor muscle tone or prominent joints, a thin or swollen tummy, or faltering weight or growth. In extreme cases, they may not reach developmental milestones, which is also known as failure to thrive.
If a young person has skin sores, rashes, flea bites, scabies or ringworm, it could be a sign they live in an unhygienic home environment due to neglect.
Neglect can also have an indirect effect on the physical health of a young person as, sadly, neglected youngsters are more likely to have problems with drug or alcohol abuse at some point in their lives.
Specifically, neglected teenagers may exhibit alcohol-related problems in their early or late teens.
Children who are being neglected are often afraid or reluctant to tell anyone because they think they will be blamed or that no one will believe them.
It is up to us and to our communities to recognize and report the signs of physical neglect, and make sure children’s health and wellbeing are protected.
If you spot something that concerns you, but you’re not sure what to do about it, call the NSPCC’s Helpline confidentially on 0808 800 5000, and a trained counsellor will help to make the appropriate