Child Neglect: Types, Effects, Signs & How To Prevent

Child Neglect – Causes, Effects, and Prevention

Medically Reviewed By
Dr. Rashmi Prakash (Psychologist/Psychotherapist)
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Childhood is a carefree period and when people grow up, it is their childhood memories that keep them going. That means every child should have a wonderful childhood. When kids are young, they become sensitive to their surrounding environment. They also develop socially and emotionally. Their experiences in childhood later shape up who they become as adults and influences their well-being, career, and life, in general.

Child abuse and neglect are very common. Most often, there is no single contributor to child neglect but rather neglect stems from multiple factors such as environment, communities, parents, inadequate policies, and poverty. Societies and communities experience higher rates of crime and violence through an increased number of cases related to child abuse and neglect.

In this post, we’ll be discussing what child neglect is, what you can do to prevent it, and how to identify the signs and effects of child neglect.

What is Child Neglect?

Child neglect is when a child undergoes abuse related to having their basic needs not met such as a lack of adequate healthcare, the deficit in nutrition and educational needs, and a lack of personal safety/security. Parental failure associated with not being able to provide or a meet child’s needs can also be classified as child neglect. When a child is neglected and not taken care of or loved the way he deserves to be loved in childhood, it can have substantial long-term effects on a child’s mental health and it can also hamper the child’s physical and cognitive development.



The different causes of child neglect are:

  • Poverty
  • Alcohol or drug abuse by parents
  • Parents who are facing depression, unemployment, loss of insurance, or life-related stress, which are then directed towards children as child neglect or abuse
  • Adults who grew up being victims of child abuse/neglect, thus considering child neglect as normal

What Are Its Different Types?

A child left in the apartment while a parent goes drinking, or a child deprived of medication are common portraits of child neglect; however, it doesn’t stop just here.

Here are the different types of child neglect you should be aware of:

  • Emotional Neglect – When a parent is too busy to care for his/her child due to career-related issues or employment needs, it amounts to emotional neglect. An alternative scenario is when a parent withholds emotional affection from children and treats it as a form of discipline. Indifference and a lack of attention to a child’s psychological state or emotional needs also fall under this criterion.
  • Educational Neglect – When a parent is unwilling to pay for a child’s education or does not provide the necessary academic environment at home, thus hindering their child’s academic performance, it counts as educational neglect. Allowing a child to constantly skip school and not seeking special educational help for children with learning problems are also considered to be different types of educational neglect.
  • Physical Neglect – Abandoning a child in empty places, leaving a child with a medical condition unsupervised, failing to administer medical attention or prescriptions to a child all fall under this category. Physical neglect is also associated with failing to seek appropriate medical care, malnourishment of a child, or not providing food/basic livelihood necessities to children.

Allowing children to be subjected to alcohol or drugs are different forms of psychological neglect.

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of child neglect are categorized into two types, namely physical and emotional. Emotional signs include behavioural symptoms as well. Watch out for these signs in the classroom and outdoor environments to spot child neglect or abuse.

Physical Signs

The physical signs of child neglect are interchangeably linked to abuse. They are:

  • Slower-than-normal development from an emotional, social, and academic context. The child may even regress to poorer performance and experience a decline in learning skills in the classroom and outside as well.
  • Failure to achieve appropriate height and weight gains according to age is a common sign of child neglect. It could be due to malnutrition and lack of care at home.
  • Suspicious or unexplained injuries on the child’s body, such as injuries denoting certain patterns or appearing on parts of the body in protected areas like the genitals, inside of the arms, and buttocks. If a child refuses to explain the reason behind the injury or if the reason doesn’t sound believable, then it is a possible sign of physical neglect or abuse.

Emotional and Behavioural Signs

Emotional signs of child neglect are linked to behavioural patterns inside and outside the classroom. Common signs and symptoms of emotional neglect in children are.

  • A child is scared to talk about a parent or gets afraid when a parent’s name is brought up in conversations.
  • Low self-esteem, anxiety, and depression
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • When the child says nobody is at home to care for him/her half the time
  • Difficulty focusing during class hours or studies
  • Being withdrawn from social activities or being extremely obedient without question
  • Not wanting to go back home


Effects of Child Neglect 

The effects of child abuse and neglect result in long-term consequences when they go unnoticed. Long-term neglect in children shapes up personalities into abnormal types if left unchecked. When a child grows up into an adult, he/she may see the world in a skewed perspective as a result of long-term neglect.

Given below are the common long-term effects of child neglect.

  1. Interpersonal Relationship Problems

Young children and infants exposed to abuse and neglect experience insecure or abnormal attachment problems with caregivers. Trusting caregivers becomes hard for children who are primarily meant to be a source of warmth and comfort.

This translates to interpersonal relationships problems later on such as withdrawing from social conversations, avoiding active participation in communities, having trouble interacting with peers, and similar associated issues stem from long-term child neglect. A child may have trouble holding conversations as well due to neglect.

2. Learning and Development Problems

Lack of focus in the classroom, not being able to keep up with homework, and falling behind school peers and curriculum requisites are linked to childhood emotional neglect at home. Poor academic performance, difficulty in developing expected speech and language patterns according to one’s age, and negative scores associated with reading and math are linked to learning and developmental problems in neglected children.

  1. Mental Health Issues

Maltreated children develop mental health disorders like PTSD, ADHD, anxiety, stress, and depression. “Complex trauma” disorders, psychotic disorders, and conduct related disorders also fall under this. Eating disorders like anorexia and binge-eating disorders may also be linked with childhood emotional neglect by parents.

  1. Suicidal Thoughts

Children who have a history of sexual abuse or exploitation may have suicidal thoughts due to the internal feelings of shame and guilt that they experience and bottle up within themselves.

5. Usage of Alcohol and Other Drugs

Higher levels of substance abuse like drugs, tobacco, and alcohol are linked to increased childhood emotional neglect. Children turn to drugs and alcohol when they no longer find an outlet or person they can talk to about their feelings. Since their only source of comfort disappears, they find comfort in substances, to numb emotional pain and unwanted feelings.

  1. Behavioural Problems

Children who belong to families with a low level of education or a history of drug or alcohol abuse experience chronic behavioural problems like anxiety, AHDH, low self-esteem, and being depressed or socially withdrawn in nature. External behavioural problems like being hyperactive or aggressive in daily encounters are the result of long-term neglect in children.

7. Violence and Criminal Activity

Research suggests that children exposed to physical conflicts and exposure to pain through neglect and abuse are more likely to manifest aggressive behaviours and inflict pain on others. Youth violence and criminal activity are strong indicators of child neglect in the past. Teenage pregnancies are accompanied by increased substance abuse and mental health disorders as a result of violence and sexual assault faced at home.

  1. Physical Health Issues

Brain damage, loss of hearing, and injury to the spinal cord are common physical health effects faced by children who experience neglect in the early year. Children who face adverse experiences of neglect are more than likely to experience assault-related issues like Shaken Baby Syndrome, or even die during the course of neglect due to developing physical health issues.

  1. Homeless

Children who experience abuse or neglect at home may feel like they don’t have a home as adults when they move to out-of-home care, and forced to leave after turning 18. A lack of social support networks, poor academic achievements, and unemployment issues faced after leaving out-of-home care can make them homeless. Domestic violence and neglect at home may also drive kids away from home.

  1. Fatal Abuse

Many children die due to incidents of fatal abuse such as falls, assault, and maltreatment by parents. Most cases go unreported due to a lack of sufficient investigation and a failure of running post-mortem examinations.


Prevention of child neglect early on through extended care and enhanced educational services will benefit both children and parents. Here are the following ways to prevent child neglect/abuse in households early on:

  • Providing early education to the youth and catering education to parents related to how to cope with the daily stressors of life, family planning, and teaching parents how to provide a nurturing environment for their kids. Services that strengthen families and provide emotional/mental support will play an enormous role in child neglect prevention.
  • Mental health services to parents who face depression, anxiety, and other mental health disorders will mitigate stress and enable parents to come out of their problems and care for children. By enabling parents to be sound and healthier emotionally/psychologically, they become better caregivers as their children grow.
  • Increasing public and social awareness of child neglect in communities will be pivotal towards the change that’s needed to prevent it. Policies should be drafted and resources must be allocated to programs that implement the changes necessary to prevent child neglect through poverty, malnutrition, and ill-treatment at home. When the public becomes an ally, child neglect is tackled right from the beginning through necessary large-scale actions.

Child abuse and neglect are a result of a combination of factors or may even due to be single parenthood. Educating the children, parents, and bringing community awareness about the situation will play a great role early on towards the prevention of child neglect. Where education is concerned, ensuring children and parents are provided necessary education is key towards the prevention of neglect. Counselling and therapy are recommended for parents who have a hard time psychologically caring for their kids at home.

Also Read: 15 Best Ways To Improve Your Parenting Skills

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