Hurting inside: learning from the NSPCC helpline and Childline on neglect

Topics: Neglect

What we've learned about public awareness of child neglect and the issues faced by children experiencing neglect

The long term cumulative impact of neglect can cause deep-rooted and lifelong physical and psychological harm for a child. At its worst neglect can prove fatal. Through our NSPCC helpline and Childline we work to provide timely and decisive action to help stop child neglect.

In this report we share what children tell us about neglect to give a better understanding of the issues they face. We provide key statistics on contacts to our helplines about neglect and look at how adults recognise, report and understand child neglect. We show how a call can make a difference.

Author: Michelle Turnbull
Published: 2015

Key findings

Contacts to the NSPCC helpline

  • Neglect is the top reason why people contact our helpline. We received 17,602 contacts about neglect in 2014-15. This is a 3% increase compared to the previous year and a 9% increase in neglect referrals when compared with the previous year.
  • 67% of contacts were from the general public.
  • 83% of contacts resulted in a referral to an external agency.
  • 26,275 children were referred to an external agency (one referral can mention more than one child).

We need to encourage everyone to be more curious about older children’s circumstances and to follow up any concerns.

  • Our helpline statistics show us that adults are more likely to recognise and report concerns about neglect for younger children.
  • 84% of calls to the helpline were about children aged 11 or younger.
  • In contrast, 70% of Childline neglect counselling sessions were with children aged over 12.

Children talking to Childline

  • Children rarely recognise that what they are experiencing is neglect and are less likely to speak out about it. Less than 1% of Childline counselling sessions were specifically about neglect in 2104-15 (1,016 sessions).
  • In almost a quarter (22%) of counselling sessions about neglect the young person had previously spoken to a teacher or social worker.
  • In 2014-15 Childline made 53 referrals to external agencies about neglect, almost double the figure in 2013-14 (this figure represents 2% of all Childline referrals).

What children tell us about neglect

When a child or young person is counselled about neglect the main themes that come up are:

  • parental alcohol and substance misuse and mental health issues
  • left at home alone
  • insufficient food or going without food
  • problems at school
  • physical and/or emotional abuse.

Of the young people who told Childline how long they had been experiencing abuse and neglect over a third (37%) said it had being going on for years and was still happening.

In 20% of neglect counselling sessions young people talked about low self-esteem, unhappiness, mental health issues, eating problems, self-harming behaviours and suicidal thoughts.

The top 5 feelings expressed by young people during counselling for neglect were:

  • worried
  • scared
  • upset or tearful
  • lonely, isolated or excluded
  • sad.

Related information

> Find out more about Childline on the NSPCC website

> Find out more about the NSPCC helpline on the NSPCC website

> Find out more about the O2 and NSPCC Online Safety Helpline on the NSPCC website

> Find other NSPCC helplines reports


"Our house is filthy and I have to take care of my little brother all the time. I have started to harm myself to try and cope. I just feel like running away or ending my life."

Girl aged 14

"I was worried that if I didn't get the girl help no-one else would see how she was living. I couldn't have had it on my conscience if I hadn't done anything. As soon as I left the house I found the number for the NSPCC's helpline (0808 800 5000) and called them."

Brad, telephone engineer


Please cite as: Turnbull, M. (2015) Hurting inside: NSPCC report on the learning from the NSPCC helpline and ChildLine on neglect. London: NSPCC.