Child Abuse: Neglect

Posted by in Abuse | 14 comments

When talking about abuse of children, images of battered, broken children usually come to mind. Unfortunately, the most prevalent type of abuse is neglect.

Specific terminology can vary, but neglect is usually defined as a pattern of failing to provide for a child’s age-appropriate basic needs or failing to sufficiently protect the child from harm.

Neglect may not be malicious – it can arise from ignorance or impaired judgement (e.g a parent is developmentally delayed, drug addicted, mentally ill or physically incapable of providing for the child). A parent or guardian may fail to provide sufficient food, sleep, clothing, safety or supervision. Provision of adequate shelter, medical care or education may also be remiss. Some definitions include the codicil that the parent must be financially able to provide such care, but I disagree with this limiter. Neglect is neglect.

It is estimated that almost two thirds of all cases of child abuse stem from neglect – intentional or not. Victims are closely split between girls and boys with girls slightly more prevalent as victims. Older children are often better at hiding the effects of neglect – they’ve learned social norms for their community and will strive to meet them as best they can.

Television has widely publicized sensational cases of neglect: children kept in dog cages or closets for years and years. Children clearly emaciated and underfed, forced to eat their feces or vomit. But those extremes are the tip of the iceberg of neglect. The problem is far reaching.

Signs of Neglect:

1. Hygiene:

  • unwashed skin and hair, uncombed hair,
  • Tattered dirty clothing which is in the wrong size
  • Clothing that is inappropriate to the weather or situation

2. Poor health:

  • drowsy and tired; puffy eyes,
  • Upper respiratory infections
  • Long term skin eruptions
  • Frequent diarrhea
  • Bruises or cuts that are infected
  • Untreated illnesses

3. Malnutrition:

  • frequently hungry; begging for food.
  • Rummaging through garbage for food
  • Gorges self, eats fast and in big gulps
  • Hoards food
  • Overeats junk food
  • Obesity (although this causes much discussion and disagreement)

4. Situational:

  • Often late or absent from school
  • Left inappropriately alone or improperly supervised
  • Lack of medical care or failure to follow through on required medical care
  • Exposing the child to inappropriate, unsafe or illegal situations

Neglect is everywhere. In Calgary, a police officer detailed the most horrendous case of abuse and neglect imaginable: A young girl, no more than eight was purposefully addicted to crack by her parents so that they could prostitute her to pedophiles. She was seen as their only resource to make money and they caused her drug addiction to ensure she would comply with their directives. This poor child suffered every imaginable kind of abuse and neglect.

Research is ongoing into the long term outcomes for neglected children.  Some things are already clear:  neglected children are at risk of lacking the skills that allow them to live fully functioning lives.  Neglected children may have diminished intellectual capacity, (from a failure to be stimulated as an infant), diminished decision making capacity, and chronic health issues.

You know a neglected child when you see her, she may be malnourished, always sick, or never at school. Think of children who don’t consistently behave and respond in ways that are typical for their age group and you have likely come upon a neglected child.

Sites that contributed to this post:


  1. Good grief how sad and scary! The more information the public knows the better we can recognize a problem and help the child. That said, I can’t help but analyze my own parenting and status of my children. I know I let them have too much time watching shows and movies. My son is addicted to the iPad as far as I’m concerned. Thank you Louise for keeping what really matters at the forefront for everyone. Together, we can become better parents and neighbors!!

    • Molly, how nice to ‘meet you’. I agree, if we keep what matters in front of us, we can all become better people, parents and neighbors

  2. Hi Louise! You’re back! How was your vacation?

    I love that you even supported other bloggers while on Maui! That’s dedication.

    Oh Louise, this subject makes me sick. I can’t imagine what you deal with at work. And with this horrible economy I would think things are worse.

    But thanks for bringing it to our attention. We do need to be reminded of these things from time to time.

    • Yes, I’m back, Karen, and glad to be home. Maui was wonderful. warm and sunny every day. Incredible scenery, friendly people and great service. I did track a few blogs while I was away, but not many. But it’s all good. I missed so many of you –

      topic is horrid. but we’re almost done. then I need to find something else to share that reflects my day to day life and the courage of the people I work with.

  3. It seems every other week I read in the Dayton Daily News about young kids found home alone – sometimes without having seen a parent for days, often with no food. Stories like the crack-addicted 8yo make one question that there’s any hope for humanity.Then I remind myself about things like how the kids at my daughter’s school elected a terminally-ill girl for prom queen last year, though that in no way balances out the horrors like you discuss – and that are unfortunately more common.

    • But the kids at your child’s school made a stand, and made a difference to that girl. and that’s how the world changes.

  4. Louise, what a heartbreaking case about the little girl being given drugs and then to pedilphiles. It makes me cry to think of such cruelty.

    • it is tragic, but I’m sure this is not the only child such things have happened to. makes me mad.

  5. Neglect is so sad. I cry for those babies left in cars so parents can have fun. As a cop my husband found a car on the side of a road with a baby crying inside, the father was down on the riverbank, fishing. The little boy was the age of our own, 9 months old. My husband was crying the whole time he was changing the soiled baby, holding him, and waiting for child services.

    • That breaks my heart, Jill. poor baby. neglect is everywhere

  6. Heart wrenching, especially that little girl whose parents gave her crack and used her for prostitution. What’s amazing to me are the ones who overcome their abuse and neglect and become stronger people, but I think those are the minority. Most are scarred for life. And some continue the cycle with their own children. So sad.

    • Lynn, I agree that many become stronger in spite of what happened to them. But it takes focus and work and opportunity. One caring adult, who gives unconditional love to an abused child can make all the difference in the world to the future of that little one. It truly is amazing how important caring concerned, trustworthy adults can be to children,.

  7. Heartbreaking, absolutely heartbreaking. I can’t believe that couple who doped up their 8 year-old. What happened to the girl? Is she getting treatment? I know she’ll never be completely well, but I do hope she is able to find people to love her and give her compassion and love. Such a shame that people like her parents thought that was their only recourse. What happened to them? I hope they were thrown in jail for life.

    Honestly, I don’t know if I would’ve recognized the signs of neglect. I probably would’ve thought the child had a cold, but now that I’ve read through this, I will be more vigilant. I would love to think this doesn’t happen in my neighborhood, but I’m not that naive. Thank you Louise for the difficult post.

    • Tameri, yes the little girl is getting treatment. But you can imagine what she has to overcome. what annoys me is that she is at risk for a life on the streets and yet she’ll be arrested and re-victimized…all because of her parents.

      I’m glad you’ll be more vigilant. that’s part of the reason for writing these posts…the more we know, the better we can cope and help the children who need us.

      be well.


  1. 4 Stages of Healing from Childhood Abuse | Louise Behiel - [...] men who were abused in childhood (I do not work with children).  Sometimes the abuse consisted of neglect; often…

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.