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Signs of Child Neglect

Updated on December 24, 2015

What is Child Neglect?

Child neglect occurs when a child is not given something that they need when they need it. For example, let's think about a young child crawling on the floor. When the child finds something what do they do with it? That object will usually go right in the child's mouth. If we were not supervising them they could choke on that object. Young children need supervision much more than older children do.

Let's break down the major categories of neglect and talk about what signs we may see. The more aware we are the more we are able to help a child in need.


In the introduction we talked about how younger children need more supervision than older children. Young children are exploring their world every day through their senses. This is how they learn about their surroundings. They want to touch, taste, and smell everything. As caregivers, we must protect them from things that can hurt them. This is the basis of supervision.

A sign of lack of supervision would be young children outside without an adult present. Children do not know the danger of wandering off by themselves. It is the parents/caregivers job to protect them.

Medical Neglect

If a child is ill or injured we take them to the doctor. Children who are neglected may not receive medical attention when they need it. I have worked with children with rotted teeth who have never seen a dentist. I've also seen children with significant limps, or arms that they cannot move or use. Children die because of head injuries, or internal injuries that are not cared for.

The signs of medical neglect are rotten teeth, limps, and the inability to write because of pain. Other signs to look for are dizziness and vomiting which could indicate a head or internal injury.

Lack of Shelter

A child has the right to a safe home. What does an unsafe home look like? Homes with holes in the floor, animal feces, old, or molded food or dangerous items such as knives left within reach of the child. Homes with trash on the floor, roaches, and lack of utilities can also be dangerous for the child. We need to make the home environment as safe as possible. Have you ever had to comfort your child after they bump their head on the corner of the dining table? Although your child has hurt themselves it does not mean you are neglectful or that your home is unsafe. There are some things we simply cannot prevent.

Lack of Clothing

When we talk about lack of clothing we are talking about lack of appropriate clothing. Children must have clothing that is adequate for the weather conditions. The lack of a warm coat in the winter could potentially be harmful to the child. On the other hand heavy clothing in the summer could cause heatstroke and harm the child. When we say appropriate clothing we are not talking about the latest fashions or the most beautiful. The clothing must simply be appropriate for the weather conditions.

Lack of Food

Investigating lack of food can be tricky. A family could have cabinets and a refrigerator full of food, but are not feeding their children. We also need to look at food that is nourishing. Children who are not fed adequate food when they are young have more learning difficulties than children who are fed nutritious food. Unfortunately, I have seen children survive on whatever they can find. I knew one little boy who learned how to make popcorn in the microwave. Once a day he would make a bag to share with his little brother. We must provide nutritious food to help our children grow up strong and healthy.

Lack of Education

Children who are neglected often miss several days of school. Parents are responsible for seeing that their children get to school, on time, every day. When a parent is addicted to drugs or alcohol they may forget or simply decide not to get up to get their children ready. Children can easily get behind and give up when they do not attend every day. Schools will contact child protective services about the children after they reach a certain number of absences. When an investigation is completed cps is often told by a parent that they are home schooling their children. While I believe that most home schoolers do an excellent job, I know there are those that do nothing to help their children learn. In the state of Indiana, the only thing a parent must show a cps investigator is an attendance sheet. As long as they write down that their child is studying and learning, there is nothing that can be done legally. These children will not learn the skills they need to become successful later in life.

Report Child Neglect


Our children must be provided with these things according to state laws. If they are not the parents/caregivers can be charged with neglect. The children can be removed and placed in a home where they will receive what they need. We must do what we can to assure that children are properly cared for. More children die from neglect than from abuse, by an overwhelming margin. Let's make sure the children that we know are not victims.


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    • Terri Williams profile image

      Terri Williams 2 years ago from Petersburg Indiana

      Exactly Denise! So very frustrating.

    • denise.w.anderson profile image

      Denise W Anderson 2 years ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

      I remember dealing with several cases where parents said that they had decided to home school their children. We knew better, though, it was just an excuse to not have to take the children to school.