Spotting child neglect: the ‘silent killer’

6 Jan

Neglect is reported to be one of the most difficult forms of abuse to be spotted in children.

Child neglect—a very common type of child abuse—is a pattern of failing to provide for a child’s basic needs, whether it be adequate food, clothing, hygiene, or supervision. Child neglect is not always easy to spot. Sometimes, a parent might become physically or mentally unable to care for a child, such as with a serious injury, untreated depression, or anxiety. Other times, alcohol or drug abuse may seriously impair judgment and the ability to keep a child safe.

imageOlder children might not show outward signs of neglect, becoming used to presenting a competent face to the outside world, and even taking on the role of the parent. But at the end of the day, neglected children are not getting their physical and emotional needs met.

Here is a really good video that shows how to spot the early signs, from a teachers point of view, usually the other main point of contact for a child of school age.

Certain general symptoms that may suggest that a child is experiencing some type of abuse or neglect include:

  • Developmental delays, which means a child does not reach developmental milestones as expected, such as starting to talk or socialize with others.
  • Regression, which is losing skills already mastered and moving back to a earlier state of development.
  • Failure to thrive, which is when a child’s growth pattern is not in a healthy range. Both weight and height can be affected, but low weight for height and head circumference is the most common symptom. Most cases of failure to thrive are the result of problems with the immediate care of the child, the interaction between the child and the caregiver (usually the mother), or the social and emotional health of the caregiver.
  • Unusual parent/child interaction. The parent may be uninterested in the child, or a child may be especially sensitive to the parent’s moods and may attempt to smooth over any potential conflict. Often this appears as a type of role reversal, with the child closely monitoring and responding to the parent. Abused or neglected children may also fear their parents.
  • Poor mental health, such as exhibiting low self-esteem, anxietydepression, orsuicidal tendencies.
  • Sudden decline in academic performance.
  • Inappropriate or problem behavior. In some cases, especially for a young child, unusual fussiness, fear, or lack of interest in activities may be noticed. Other behaviors may be disruptive. Children often act out what they have seen or experienced, such as violence or sexual activity. Older children may act out by being promiscuous or running away.

Keep your eyes peeled, look for the small signs, and don’t keep it to yourself. Children cannot defend themselves a lot of the time. That is why they need us. 


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