4.6 Neglect


a boy and a girl looking out the window of a door
Photo by Kelly Sikkema, Unsplash License

Neglect involves a pattern of behaviour on the caregiver’s part to not meet the needs of the child. It occurs when a caregiver fails to provide basic needs such as adequate supervision, food, shelter, clothing, nutrition, health, hygiene, safety, medical, education, and psychological care. This may be due to the caregiver abandoning the child or being unable or unwilling to provide for the child. Neglect is considered in relation to the developmental age and capacity of the child. For example, leaving a four-year-old home alone for any length of time would be dangerous and harmful to their physical and emotional well-being. Leaving a ten-year-old home alone would not; however, if the ten-year-old has anxiety and is anxious when left alone, it could be considered neglectful to leave the older child home alone. This negative impact on the older child due to their mental health is a risk factor for further harm (Jonson & Drake, 2018; Rimer & Prager, 2016; Tufford, 2020).

Signs of Neglect may include:

  • Failure to thrive
  • Language delays
  • Difficulty forming friendships
  • Academic challenges
  • Missing key articles of clothing
  • Over or under-dressed for weather conditions
  • Height and weight significantly below age level
  • Consistent school absenteeism
  • Persistent hunger
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Low self-esteem
  • Body odour
  • Child assumes adult responsibilities
  • Always being dirty and severely unkempt
  • Sleepiness/always tired
  • Child steals food/lunch money from others
  • May indiscriminately attach to others
  • Lack of routine care resulting in injury and consequences such as diaper rash, dental problems, no immunizations prohibiting entrance to school
  • Poor social skills
  • Failure to thrive – Infants or children who fail to thrive have a height, weight and head circumference that do not match standard growth charts. The child’s weight falls lower than the third percentile (as outlined in standard growth charts) or 20 percent below the ideal weight for their height.

(“Child Abuse and Neglect,” n.d.; Crosson-Tower, 2020; Durrant et al., 2006; Fallon et al., 2020; Jonson-Reid & Drake, 2018; Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies, 2022; Public Health Agency of Canada, 2012; Rimer & Prager, 2016; Sedlak et al., 2010; Toronto Children’s Aid Society, n.d.; Tufford, 2020).


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Child Maltreatment: An Introductory Guide With Case Studies Copyright © 2023 by Susan Loosley and Jen Johnson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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