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Neglect is the ongoing failure to meet a child’s basic needs. Some of the signs of neglect include:

  • Poor physical appearance – a child who is dirty, hungry, has a lack of appropriate clothing, bad hygiene, not having access to medical care and treatment
  • Absence of supervision/boundaries – a child who is put in danger or not protected from physical or emotional harm, use of inadequate care givers, chaotic family environment with no boundaries or routines
  • A child not getting the love, care and attention they need from their parents or carers

A child who’s neglected will often suffer from other forms of abuse as well. Neglect can cause serious, long-term damage to the child’s emotional, social and physical development having a profound impact on their future outcomes and in some cases can result in death.

Neglect can often become an issue when parents are dealing with complex problems, sometimes including domestic abuse, substance misuse, mental health issues, social-economic issues or they may have been poorly looked after themselves. These problems can have a direct impact on parents’ ability to meet their child’s needs. Even when parents are struggling with other personal issues they have a responsibility to care for their child or seek help if they are unable to parent adequately.

There are four broad types of neglect:

  • Physical neglect is where a child’s basic needs (e.g. food, shelter, clothing) are not met or the child isn’t kept safe.
  • Emotional neglect involves a parent or carer failing to provide the nurture and stimulation they require.
  • Educational neglect is when a parent or carer doesn’t ensure that a child is properly educated.
  • Medical neglect involves a child not being given proper health care and dental care.

Why is this important in Portsmouth?

Neglect is the most common reason for a child to be the subject of a child protection plan in the UK. In Portsmouth, approximately 70% of children subject to a plan are suffering from neglect.

Knowing the signs of neglect can help to give a voice to children. Any child can suffer neglect, although some may be more vulnerable than others. When families go through a tough time (e.g. experiencing relationship problems, financial hardship, poverty, mental health issues, addiction to drugs or alcohol), parents or carers may struggle to maintain a loving home for their child. Children more vulnerable also include children who are born prematurely, have a disability or have complex health needs, are in care, or are seeking asylum.

Neglect can be very difficult to notice as having one of the signs doesn’t mean that a child is experiencing neglect. You might be able to tell that there is a serious problem if a child display multiple signs over an extended period of time.

A child being neglected may also be suffering from other forms of abuse.

Although you may be worried about a child, it’s not always easy for professionals to identify neglect. There’s often no single sign or incident that a child or family need help. It is more likely that there will be a series of concerns over a period of time that, taken together, demonstrate the child is at risk. If you think neglect is occurring in a family, household or for an individual child or young person don’t wait:

  • Discuss concerns with the child, parent / carer and family members as appropriate
  • Discuss concerns with colleagues and partner agencies
  • Use the Neglect Identification and Measurement Tool to guide your questions, observations and areas for further consideration
  • Record concerns, conversations and interaction
  • Use a chronology
  • An early help assessment should be undertaken by a lead professional to better understand all relevant information about the child and family. A plan should then be agreed with the family as to who will provide support which will be coordinated by the lead professional. Any frontline practitioner from any agency working with children, young people and families, including the voluntary and community sector, can undertake an early help assessment.
  • Regularly review progress using these tools and update the multi-agency plan accordingly

Worried about a child – If you are concerned that a child or young person has suffered harm, neglect or abuse, please contact

Portsmouth Multi Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH)

If a child is at immediate risk of harm, call the Police on 999

Remember: risks of harm around a child can accumulate and combine. Using the neglect identification and measurement tool (NIMT) will help you identify points when you need to involve other agencies and / or escalate your concerns.

The PSCP has worked with partner agencies to develop an agreed approach to tackle the causes and effects of neglect in Portsmouth. In order to achieve this, the objectives of the PSCB Neglect Strategy are:

  • To strengthen local responses in line with current national and local guidance, policies and good practice
  • To ensure families receive a coordinated response from those who work with them and their children.
  • To adapt, rather than duplicate, existing guidance, policies or procedures to tackle neglect.
  • To raise awareness and improve the safeguarding duty of all relevant agencies with regards to neglect