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Understanding child neglect

Neglect is when the person responsible for taking care of you isn’t giving you everything you need to grow happy and healthy.

Content Warning: this article contains violence and trauma related content that may be triggering or distressing.

Teen girl sitting alone at home in the dark

What is neglect?

It’s when we don’t have our basic needs met by the person responsible for taking care of us. It could be our parent, carer or grandparent.

  • Some parents or carers have trouble giving their kids the basics they need to be safe and grow up happy and healthy.
  • It can happen when one or both caregivers find parenting hard, eg. because of addiction, mental illness, poverty or homelessness.
  • Deciding what neglect is and isn’t can be hard. It’s defined by things such as the laws in the country where you live, culture and society.

Types of neglect

Child neglect can happen in different ways. Neglect may include just one type, a few different types or all of them.

Physical neglect
Not enough food, clothing or shelter
Medical neglect
Not getting help for injuries or sickness
Emotional neglect
Not having love and care from a parent or carer
Educational neglect
Often absent from school or not going at all
Being left by parent or carer for very long periods
Supervisory neglect
Taking care of yourself beyond what’s expected for your age

What’s the opposite of neglect?

We need to be supported in different areas of our life when growing up. This is usually the job of our parent or caregiver. But it may also include our extended family, school and community.

Physical – shelter, food, clothing, hygiene, sleep

Security – a safe place to live, someone to take care of you

Affection – cuddles, kisses, hugs, warmth

Responsibility – being included in decisions

Guidance – teaching life lessons, instilling values

Independence – exploring the world in a safe way

Stimulation – praise, play, games, having fun

Approval – understanding and acceptance

Neglect happens over time. It usually isn't a one-off event.

What are the signs of neglect?

Here are some signs that may mean a young person is being neglected:

Often hungry and without enough food to eat

Not enough clothes; worn out or dirty clothes

Very dirty, unwashed or have body odour

Untreated injuries, illnesses or infections

Is frequently absent from school or doesn’t attend at all

Is left alone for long periods without supervision

Living in very dirty or unsafe conditions

May steal or beg for food, clothing or money

Being ignored or rejected by parent or carer

Parent or carer is abusing alcohol or drugs

If you are being neglected…

You might feel guilty, sad, scared, or hurt. But just remember that:

You deserve to be loved and cared for
It’s NOT your fault
Kids Helpline is here to help you

There are people you can talk to

Here’s a list of some people you could try talking to. Remember, if at first you don’t get help, keep trying until you find somebody who will help you.

Older relative or friend

Kids Helpline - 1800 55 1800

Teacher or school principal

1800 RESPECT - 1800 737 732

Doctor or nurse

Youth worker

School counsellor

There’s always help available

If you’re worried or scared for yourself or a friend, our counsellors will listen and support you.

Contact us today by giving us a call, start a WebChat or send us an email.

This content was last reviewed 19/07/2018

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