Child neglect is an ongoing failure to meet a child’s basic daily needs. The child is not provided with adequate food, clothing, hygiene, support to education or supervision. They are often experiencing vulnerability in their own homes because their family is incapable of functioning properly in their livelihood, inflicting neglect on their child. Although there is no focused cause as to why neglect happens, these are a few factors that drive parents towards child neglect: poverty, lack of education, marital/ relationship problems, violence between parents/ carers, lack of support from extended problems, lack of knowledge and skills in bringing up children, loneliness, unemployment, inadequate housing and mental or physical ill-health including alcohol and substance misuse.
In comparison to normal children, those who have gone through child neglect experience long term effects that carry onto their adulthood. These effects include; problems with brain development, temptation to take risks such as using drugs, involvement in crimes, getting into an unhealthy relationship, difficulty with treating their children, and a higher chance of having serious mental health problems. These effects would be an ongoing dilemma in their lives as their past experiences would always deter them from living a normal life.
It is important to note that specific statistics are difficult to attain. Often, neglect is not reported as much as it should be reported. This is because adults often look past the signs, unsure whether the signs portrayed by a child is a one-time case or if it is continuous. Children who go through neglect may not always have the right help around them or knowledge to receive such help to get them out of such situations either. Plus, in most cases, they feel embarrassed towards their livelihood, therefore, hold themselves back from reaching out for help. Nonetheless, data from March 2019 by CSEW (Crime Survey for England and Wales) show an estimation of 1 in 100 adults aged 18 to 74 years experienced neglect before age of 16 (481,000 people). This is solely on the fact they weren’t given food, shelter or clothing; therefore it does not cover the other types of neglect. Neglect was also the most common category of abuse under CPPS (child protection plans) in England, with around 25,330 children on 31 March 2019). As mentioned before, physical neglect is much easier to identify than other types of neglect, especially emotional neglect, since there are no physical signs detected on children. As of now, there is no survey to measure the experiences of neglect of children because it is difficult for young children to openly express their feelings surrounding their experiences since it is a sensitive matter.
The lockdown caused by Covid- 19 was not ideal for children under neglect. They were more prone to vulnerability with their guardians at home all day long. The Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel received 285 serious incident notifications from April to September 2020. This was a 27% increase from 225 in the same period as the previous year. The children during the lockdown period were deprived of friends, teachers and even support networks. There was no one to identify signs of them being in danger therefore, the statistics are of an increased amount.
The Children and Young Persons Act 1993 was enacted to punish cruelty to children. The offence requires that it must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt that; any person who has attained the age of sixteen years and has responsibility for any child or young person under the age wilfully assaults, ill-treats, neglects, abandons, or exposes him or causes or procures him to be assaulted, ill-treated, neglected, abandoned, or exposed, in a manner likely to cause him unnecessary suffering or injury to health (including injury to or loss of sight, or hearing, or limb, or organ of the body and any mental derangement). The problem with the current law is that it is only applicable to any physical harm infliction. In 1981, the House of Lords restricted the offence to the ‘physical needs rather than its spiritual, educational, moral or emotional needs’. Since the draft of the Act, the seriousness of childhood neglect has developed, especially around emotional neglect. From research, it is evident that emotionally deprived children are more likely than their peers to develop mental health problems, low social skills. As a result, section 1 of the Children and Young Persons Act 193 does not cover the full harm of neglect and is not useful is today’ in many cases.
To help children experiencing neglect, always put doubts aside and openly talk to the child. One sign is enough to ask questions. One question is enough to start the first step towards a new beginning. As an adult, we must protect and secure children’s life away from danger so that they can thrive ahead.
Melinda Smith et al, ‘Child Abuse and Neglect’ (HelpGuide, November 2020)<https://www.helpguide.org/articles/abuse/child-abuse-and-neglect.htm > accessed 26 February 2022
Allan Collins, ‘The ten causes of child neglect’ (HughJames, September 2017) <https://www.hughjames.com/blog/the-ten-causes-of-child-neglect > accessed 26 February 2022
NSPCC, ’Neglect’ < https://www.nspcc.org.uk/what-is-child-abuse/types-of-abuse/neglect/ > accessed 26 February 2022
Meghan Elkin ‘Child neglect in England and Wales: year ending March 2019’(Office of National
Statistics)<https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/crimeandjustice/articles/childneglectinenglandandwales/yearendingmarch2019 > accessed 26 February 2022
BBC News, ’Covid- 19: rise in suspected child abuse cases after lockdown’ (January 2021)< https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-55682745 > accessed 26 February 2022
The criminal law and action for child neglect, ‘an independent analysis and proposal for reform’<https://media.actionforchildren.org.uk/documents/criminal_law_and_child_neglect.pdf > accessed 26 February 2022