What is child neglect and how can you spot the signs?

What is child neglect and how can you spot the signs?

Posted on Jan 14, 2016

What is child abuse?



There are four types of abuse: neglect, emotional, physical and sexual. According to the NSPCC, neglect is currently the most common reason for taking child protection action with 1 in 10 children having experienced neglect. 

It’s important to know the different types so if you suspect child neglect is happening, you can report accurately to your safeguarding lead/social services.


The definition of child neglect

Neglect is the persistent failure to meet a child’s basic physical and psychological needs.

There are four types of neglect:



Such as failing to provide basic needs such as food, clothing and shelter.


Such as failing to provide a child’s need for nurture and stimulations, perhaps by ignoring or humiliating them.


Such as failing to ensure a child receives an education.


Such as failing to provide appropriate health care, including dental care.


Possible signs of child neglect

There isn’t always a single sign that will indicate neglect, but rather a pattern or series

such as:

  • The child’s appearance being unwashed, wearing inadequate clothing, thin with little muscle mass.
  • The child’s behaviour – seems frequently tired, has poor communication skills, often hurts themselves accidentally.
  • The child may come to school without a packed lunch or without food money.
  • The child may not have reached the correct height or weight for their age, has anaemia, untreated and recurring injuries, illnesses or medical problems.


Remember, there are other types of abuse - emotional, physical and sexual abuse. We will be looking at the signs of these types of abuse in the next couple of weeks.


Don’t forget: The common behaviours of a child who has been/is being abused are:

  • Anxiety or depression
  • Self-harming
  • Thoughts about suicide
  • Obsessive behaviours
  • Aggression
  • Soiled clothing
  • Eating disorders or changes in eating habits
  • Sleeping trouble, nightmares or bed-wetting
  • Risky behaviour, including drugs and alcohol
  • Absence from school
  • Withdrawal or clinginess


Action to take if you suspect child abuse

If you suspect child abuse, don’t ignore it. Report it to your manager/safeguarding lead immediately. If your organisation doesn't have one, consider contacting children’s social care or the police on 999.

At flick we offer affordable child protection training that covers what child abuse is, how it affects child development, what to do and how to react to a disclosure, how to report concerns and what your legal duty and responsibility is as someone who works with children and young people.


Our level 2 accredited child protection course covers key points from:


  • Working together to safeguard children (2015) in England
  • Safeguarding children: working together under the Children Act 2004 in Wales
  • National Guidance for Child Protection in Scotland (2014)
  • Co-operating to safeguarding children (2003) in Northern Ireland
  • Keeping Safe in Education (2019).


Free signs of child abuse - staff posters



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