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:
- 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
- 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)
- 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.
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