The latest from the NSPCC on its Neglect Matters series

editorial image

Where does neglect occur and who is at risk?

In this week’s column, I want to look at who can be a victim of neglect andaddress some myths about the relationship between neglect and poverty.

There is a common perception that there is a link between neglect and poverty, but evidence about the degree of that association is inconsistent. Crucially there is no causal link between poverty and parenting ability and children from all backgrounds can suffer neglect.

Neglect happens when parents fail to provide the resources to meet a child’s needs when those resources exist or should be available. That is, neglectful parents may choose to allocate whatever resources they have in ways which do not benefit their children.

Neglect can be seen in all types of communities – including affluent ones – and take different forms; many children who are from well-off families experience neglect, and many children from poor families don’t.

Children who are living in financially stable homes but experience a lack of care or availability from their parents are suffering emotional neglect, which can seriously affect their mental and emotional wellbeing.

A study by The Children’s Society shows that deprived teenagers who had few possessions or a lack of experiences or resources were more likely to be experiencing neglect. But this finding doesn’t link to how well-off their family was.

For some of these young people, their material deprivation could be caused by parents choosing not to spend money on them, rather than because their family was too poor to afford things for them.

Poverty can increase the stresses felt by parents and disrupt their parenting, but most parents who live in poverty care for their children well. Those who are poor and also fail to parent well do so for reasons other than just the deprivation they are experiencing.

In the majority of cases, families affected by neglect experience a multitude of difficulties, such as domestic violence and learning disability, poor mental health, poverty, and deprivation. So, the children’s needs are not solely the result of a single issue.

So why am I talking about this?

We need to be careful about making assumptions about neglect and poverty, as the way parents relate to their children does not simply arise out of economic

adversity or advantage.

There can be many factors that lead to child neglect, but poverty is not a necessary nor sufficient factor in instances of child neglect.

Ultimately neglect can happen anywhere, so it’s up to us to make sure we’re open to recognising it and giving support to children and families in all communities. It would be very short sighted to just look for neglect in families of a particular background and could leave children at risk.

We all need to be vigilant for the signs of neglect in all communities and report any concerns we may have. The NSPCC Helpline is available on 0808 800 5000 for free, confidential advice and support. You can also reach us at help@nspcc.org.uk