Impact of child neglect
"My dad doesn’t feed us. He is never here and I am not allowed to see my mum. Most days I go to school feeling ill because I am not eating or sleeping properly. I often have a headache or bellyache. I wish I could go into care."
Childline counselling session with a girl aged 12 (NSPCC, 2015)
Children can experience neglect at any age – from birth to adolescence. Neglect can cause a range of short- and long-term effects which may vary depending on the age of the child affected.
If a baby is malnourished, neural cells can become weak or damaged and this can cause lowered brain function. If a child has little interaction with their caregiver, it can change how emotional and verbal pathways develop and impact their ability to learn. This may have consequences for brain functioning in later life.
> Read more about how neglect can impact child brain development and how you can encourage healthy brain growth
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Parents and carers need to help young children to develop gross motor skills. If they are being neglected, or if parents don’t know how to stimulate their child, this process may not happen effectively and the child’s development may be delayed (Horwath, 2013).
If a child isn’t given enough food, they will immediately experience hunger and discomfort and may have trouble concentrating. But longer-term malnourishment will also affect their physical health and development.
Having an unhealthy diet can also lead to obesity-related health problems.
Not receiving appropriate medical care can result in poor health, dental decay and in some circumstances, death.
Children who have experienced neglect are more likely to experience mental health problems, including:
- post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- dissociative disorders
- memory impairments
- panic disorder
- attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) (Child Welfare Information Gateway, 2015).
Relationships and attachment
Children who don’t get the love and care they need may develop problems with attachment – they may struggle to form a strong relationship or bond with their caregiver. This can lead to a child becoming isolated and affect their ability to maintain healthy relationships with others later in life (including their own children).
> Find out more about child attachment and how to support parents and carers in building positive relationships with their children
Young people who have experienced neglect may take more risks, such as:
- running away from home
- breaking the law
- abusing drugs or alcohol
- becoming involved in unhealthy and/or abusive relationships.
If children and young people aren’t being supervised appropriately by their parents and carers they may have accidents which can cause injury, illness, disfigurement, disability or even death.