Child neglect is the most common form of maltreatment of children where their basic needs are not sufficiently met. These needs include adequate clothing, food, education, nurturing, emotional support, and health care. Neglect can result in harm or distress for the child or interfere with their development. So, it is important to recognize the common signs of child neglect to address the issue and protect the children using the right support measures.
Common signs of child neglect
Neglect can be physical and emotional. Some of the common signs of child neglect are:
Poor hygiene and unkempt appearance
When a child is physically neglected by caregivers, they may seem untidy. They could also lack good personal hygiene and have severe body odor. Further, the child may not wear appropriate clothes for the weather, and the clothing can seem unwashed or smelly. Due to unhygienic conditions, they may also show symptoms of skin infections such as scabies, flea bites, rashes, ringworm, and sores. For toddlers and infants, this form of neglect may manifest as recurring occurrences of nappy rashes.
Extreme changes in behavior
This is a sign of physical as well as emotional neglect that has developed over a long time, sometimes years. At a certain point, one may notice severe behavioral changes in the child. They can become extremely clingy or withdrawn into themselves, refusing to socialize. Sometimes, the child will exhibit aggressive or obsessive behavior. Some children experience anxiety, paranoia, and depression due to neglect. Further, persistent neglect can make a child exhibit antisocial behavior.
Poor academic performance
Another common sign of child neglect is drastic changes in performance at school. A neglected child undergoes trauma and psychological distress, making it hard for them to pay attention in class. Also, due to parental or guardian neglect, the child will often miss school leading to poor attendance records. As a result, they find it hard to keep up with the rest of the class and may not be able to grasp what is being taught in class. The child will be unable to complete assignments and projects on time and may persistently fail in tests. Their social skills become poor, and they may find it difficult to relate or connect with their classmates.
Frequent health issues
Another telltale sign that a child is neglected is failing health. This mostly results from a lack of regular and well-balanced meals. The deficiency of adequate nutrients, along with the psychological distress due to neglect, manifests in the form of several health issues in the child. They will show symptoms of anemia, weak muscle tone, malformed joints, and dental problems. Also, the child may go through recurring infections, such as in the ears or stomach. As a result, their abdominal region may appear too slim or swollen. The child may also have untreated injuries resulting from frequent accidents due to a lack of supervision. Additionally, they may experience fatigue. The caregivers may also not keep up with the child’s medical appointments.
Another common sign of a child being neglected is developmental problems. Emotional and physical neglect affects the kid’s ability to reach developmental milestones that other children their age achieve. As a result, the child may have below-average language and social skills. Also, they may experience stunted or slow physical and emotional growth.
This is a less apparent sign of child neglect, which only becomes known when a social worker or a community worker visits the child’s home. They may observe that the kid’s bedtime, daily routine, and curfew time are overlooked. Also, the home could be unfit and unsanitary for a child, say, it lacks proper heating, light, or running water. Further, the child could be left unsupervised and alone for long periods of time. Sometimes, the child’s needs are neglected when they are compelled to become a caregiver for another member of the family, like younger siblings or an ailing parent.
A child exhibiting just one of the above-mentioned signs does not necessarily mean they are neglected. But it becomes crucial to pay close attention if one notices such signs. In such cases, the following measures can be taken:
Listening to the child: It is important to avoid dismissing the child if they say they are being mistreated or neglected. So, one should refrain from questioning or doubting their claims or memory of the neglect. Dismissing their experience can make the child shut down and become afraid to report what they are going through. The best thing to do in such situations is to remain calm and reassuring.
Ensuring safety: Before helping the child, one should ensure their safety so that the intervention does not cause more harm to the child. Also, it is possible that the support may be considered a threat when caregivers suspect interference. So, one should observe the situation closely and connect with professionals to avoid putting themselves and the child in danger. Professionals will be able to handle the situation in the best way.
Reporting neglect: If one has reason to believe that a child is being neglected and it is threatening their wellbeing, it is important to report it. In addition, if it is evident that the incidences of neglect have been occurring repeatedly, one should report each incident separately. When significant information is provided over time, there is a higher chance the child will receive adequate assistance.