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Understanding child neglect

Neglect happens when a parent or carer isn’t giving you everything you need to grow up happy and healthy.

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

Girl sitting along at home neglected

What is neglect?

When we don’t have our basic needs met by the people who are supposed to look after us it’s called neglect.

  • Some parents or carers have trouble giving their kids the basics they need to be safe and grow up happy and healthy.
  • 'Good enough’ parenting is defined by things such as your culture, the community you live in and the laws around child protection in your country.
  • Neglect can happen when one or both parents are affected by things which may or may not be within their control eg. addiction, mental illness or poverty

Types of neglect

Child neglect might occur in any or all of these areas:

Physical neglect
Not enough food, clothing, unsafe at home
Medical neglect
Illnesses, infections or injuries left untreated
Emotional neglect
Lack of love, warmth and emotional support
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 – consistent care, appropriate boundaries

Affection – cuddles, kisses, holding, tenderness, patience

Stimulation – encouragement, praise, play, games

Guidance – teaching life lessons, instilling values

Independence – balancing protection and exploring

Responsibility – appropriate chores, involved in decisions

Approval – understanding and acceptance

Neglect usually happens over time and is rarely a one-off incident. As it builds up over time it can become normalised by the parent and young person.

What are the signs of neglect?

Here are some signs that may indicate neglect:

Extremely dirty, unwashed or have body odour

May steal or beg for food, clothing or money 

Inadequate, worn out or dirty clothing

Living in unhygienic or unsafe conditions

Often hungry, without food or malnourished

Untreated injuries, illness or physical conditions

Is home alone for long periods without supervision

Parent/carer is abusing alcohol or other substances

Parent/carer may appear indifferent toward to the child

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

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 who can help

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.

Kids Helpline - 1800 55 1800

1800 RESPECT - 1800 737 732

An older relative or friend

A teacher or school principal

Doctor or nurse

Youth worker

School counsellor

Child Protection

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, starting a WebChat or sending us an email.

This content was last reviewed 19/07/2018

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