Child Abuse: Neglect

The discussion pertaining to forms of child and youth abuse often fails to acknowledge a more obscure, and rather hidden type: Neglect.

Child neglect can often go hand-in-hand with physical, emotional, and sexual abuse, yet can be hard to decipher due to its convoluted nature, since neglect is not a specific action—rather, a lack thereof. Often, neglect results in the basic safety, healthcare, hygiene, and emotional needs of a child not being adequately met. This can lead to several adverse consequences for the child ranging from the early onset of mental illness, to signs of early aging, to lacking healthy attachment relationships as adults.

"Neglect is not a specific action—rather, a lack thereof"

How Prevalent Is It?

Canadian statistics show that neglect accounts for 34% of the cases reported that fall under the categorization of child abuse (2008). Neglecting mothers are more common than fathers, and often single-parents, families with large numbers of children, and families with low socioeconomic status are greater likely to be perpetrators of neglect.

What Can Neglect Look Like?

Since neglect is an “invisible” form of abuse, there may not be any signs or features that present themselves. A child who lacks proper nutrition, housing, medical care, education, and supervision can look different case-by-case. Therefore, some warning signs that a child may be experiencing neglect include...

  • Poor school attendance

  • Lunch/snacks not provided to the child at school

  • Poor hygiene practices

  • Lack of basic life-skills appropriate for the child’s age

  • Little clothing turnover

  • Child wearing inappropriate clothing for weather (I.e., Shorts in winter)

  • Behavioural problems that often include insecure-attachment relationships

These points are not mutually exclusive, and usually occur in a pattern. They are not a one-off occurrence for a child if they are experiencing neglect.

Potential Consequences Of Neglect

In the cases of more moderate to severe neglect, the child may have an altered stress response due to increases in cortisol; the stress hormone in the body. Studies have shown that children suffering from neglect are more likely to have poor cognitive and academic functioning, low self-esteem, as well as greater anxiety and difficulty controlling impulses. Experiencing neglect can lead to internalized trauma, which can actually make physical changes to the synapse connections within the brain. These connections are most vulnerable in teenage years, which can therefore stunt the development of the brain into adulthood if the individual is not adequately cared for.

How Does This Relate To Intergenerational Trauma

"Women who were neglected as children are four times more likely to neglect their own children than mothers who did not experience such adversity"

Studies have shown that women who were neglected as children are four times more likely to neglect their own children than mothers who did not experience such adversity. This can be attributed to a lack of understanding about the effects of neglect on oneself, or the attribution of this parenting as normal and non-problematic. It is important to acknowledge and recognize signs of this type of abuse early on; to take preventative measures to reverse or diminish negative effects of neglect on a child, and future generations.

Written By: Daphna