Childhood & Adolescent Neglect

The impact of neglect can be devastating for a child or adolescent. The impacts may range from poor self-esteem, mental ill-health, as well as psychological, social, academic, and emotional developmental difficulties. These can have life-long, and potentially intergenerational, consequences. It is therefore essential that all professionals and agencies work together, with a sense of urgency and focus to identify neglect – and work with families to safeguard children and adolescents from it. 

Definition of Neglect

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 caregivers)

  • ensure access to appropriate medical care or treatment.

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

Working Together 2018

Neglect affects babies, young children - and adolescents 

Neglect continues to be regarded as being a particularly complex and multi-faceted issue, sometimes seen as being an intractable problem – and there is evidence to suggest that many adults, including the professionals who work with them, think that adolescents have a natural resilience to poor parenting experiences.

 

A Children’s Society study found that more than one in seven (15%) 14–15 year olds lived with adult caregivers who neglected them in one or more ways – they may have shown little or no interest in them, not offered warmth or encouragement, made no effort to monitor or protect them or failed to promote their health. 

 

Neglected young people reported low well-being and a higher propensity than their peers to behaving in ways which may jeopardise their health or their prospects. These findings may underestimate the scale of adolescent neglect as they are based solely on the reports of young people who were attending mainstream schools – and so do not account for those in specialist provision, those without a school place or missing from the system, or those in private schools, for whom the experience of neglect may be different. 

Types of Neglect

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Identifying and Assessing Neglect

Neglect has been found to be the most likely form of maltreatment to recur. Identifying neglect and determining whether statutory thresholds for action have been reached can be challenging.   


Why? 

  • The chronic nature of neglect can mean that professionals become habituated to how a child is presenting and fail to question a lack of progress.

  • Unlike physical abuse, for example, the experience of neglect rarely produces a crisis that demands immediate, proactive and authoritative action, making it difficult to evidence that the threshold is met at a specific point in time. 

  • Neglect can in some cases be challenging to identify because of the need to look beyond individual parenting episodes and consider the persistence, frequency or pervasiveness of parenting behaviours, which may make them harmful and abusive.

  • Practitioners may be reluctant or lack confidence to make judgements about patterns of parental behaviour, particularly when these are deemed to be culturally embedded or associated with social disadvantages such as poverty or when the parent is a victim/survivor in their own right.

  • The child may not experience neglect in isolation, but alongside other forms of abuse. 

Bowyer, S. and Wilkinson, J. (2017)

Support and Resources

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In an emergency
 

If someone is at immediate risk of significant harm, please call 999. Do not delay.

Kids with Capes

Levels of Need Guidance

Use the Levels of Need guidance to help you identify and assess safeguarding needs - and access the right help at the right time. 

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Make a safeguarding referral for support

Call Lambeth's Integrated Referral Hub and follow up with a completed Multi-agency Referral Form.

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Resources for professionals

Visit the NSPCC for training and resources to help you protect children and adolescents from neglect.

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Access Early Help in your area

There are five Community Early Help locality teams in Lambeth. Contact your local Early Help Team.

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Guidance for Practitioners

UK Government advice to help practitioners identify child abuse and neglect and take appropriate action in response