The mental image of a neglected child will pull at anyone’s heartstrings. Unfortunately, in today’s society it is far too common of a problem. A neglected child is usually a sign of a neglected, dysfunctional family. Neglected children are a result of parents that fail to provide the most basic of needs. The traumatic circumstance will have a lasting mental and physical effect on the entire family.
Children that have been neglected often show many symptoms. These symptoms differ depending on their age group. Infants are commonly neglected do to lack of parental competence, substance abuse or living in poverty. Many parents don’t know how to care for a child and they lack the availability of helpful resources. Many infants will be fed watered down formula and stay in the same soiled diaper for days in order save a little bit of money.
In infancy and early childhood there are certain things to look out for when concerned about a neglected child. For example, if a child was once at a normal weight and has dropped below the 5th percentile and shows signs of delayed motor functioning, it may be cause for concern. Especially if the child seems listless, weak and generally unhappy and uncomfortable. Other physical symptoms could include loss of muscle tone or a flattened head due to hours of laying on it’s back.
Infants who are neglected will show little trust in their environment. They will fail to bond with other humans and become distant and unwilling to socialize. Neglected baby’s may not demonstrate the cooing and babbling language of a normal infant. This delay will may carry on for years to come.
In school age children, neglect is a bit easier to detect. Delayed language, poor skin and dull hair are among the physical symptoms. Often times the child will be dirty, smelly and have a hard time paying attention. They may have a drawn face or deep set darkness around their eyes.
Behaviorally neglected children will often have a hard time socializing. They will often due poorly in school because the do not have the cognitive capacity to understand even the simplest of direction. Many times the child will be accustomed to aggressive one-word commands rather than positive direction. Without structure and clearly defined standards at home, the child may have a hard time adjusting to the organization of a classroom and find himself having disciplinary problems.
In adolescents, years of neglect may lead to acting out, running away or becoming pregnant at a young age. Children of neglect never learn to develop the internal set of standards that guide their behavior. Many of them desire immediate gratification because they have learned that nothing is consistent and they are unsure of what tomorrow may bring. These children may develop impulsive behaviors such as stealing, promiscuity and drug use. In a circular twist of events, the probability of this child becoming a neglectful parent is quite high.
The good news is with proper detection and intervention we can make great strides in helping neglected children live healthy and productive lives. With the right education and resources these neglected children can grow up to be positive role models and contributing members to society. Learning the symptoms and effects of neglect is a great first step in understanding and effecting social change.
If you suspect that a child is being neglected or abused, please call your local Child Protective Services. It can be done anonymously and safely. The international toll free number is 1-800-4-A-Child. Please don’t hesitate, it is better to be safe than sorry when it comes to a helpless child.
Tower, C. (2008). Understanding child abuse and neglect. Boston: Pearson Publishing