14. NeglectWe even now have a tautology in a definition! Neglect is severe neglect. Well, yes!
This is the persistent or severe neglect of a child, which results in serious impairment of that child’s health or behaviour.
This may be exposure to danger or by repeated failure to attend to the physical needs and developmental needs of a child.
The non-organic failure of a child to thrive may result from neglect of a child but will always require medical diagnosis by appropriate exclusion of organic causes.
And where on earth did this phrase "the non-organic failure of the child" come from? It's gibberish! And in any case, is is not part of a definition of neglect, but is instead part of the issue of distinguishing between neglect and medical causes of problems.
OK, Let's see how it should be done. here is the definition from 4.2.10 to 4.2.13 of the London Child Protection Procedures.
4.2.10 Neglect is the persistent failure to meet a child’s basic physical and / or psychological needs, likely to result in the serious impairment of the child’s health or development.
4.2.11 Neglect may occur during pregnancy as a result of maternal substance abuse.
4.2.12 Once a child is born, neglect may involve a parent failing to:
- Provide adequate food, clothing and shelter (including exclusion from home or abandonment);
- Protect a child from physical and emotional harm or danger;
- Ensure adequate supervision (including the use of inadequate care-givers);
- Ensure access to appropriate medical care or treatment.
Some of this is not applicable to the school environment - for instance neglect during pregnancy. But otherwise, this is a good solid definition of neglect which could perfectly well be dropped into the school's policy verbatim.
So let's now look at the school's description of signs of neglect, which is thr second half of paragraph 14.
Possible signs of neglect:Again, we can compare this with the London Child Protection Procedures, paragraphs 4.3.25 to 4.3.28.
- Failure to thrive (looks thin emaciated, unwell, below average height, weight)
- Unusually hungry
- Has regular accidents especially burns
- Poor personal hygiene
- Avoidance of School medicals
- Reluctance to go home
- Poor social relationships
- Frequent lateness/non-attendance
- Inappropriate clothing
4.3.25 It is rare that an isolated incident will lead to agencies becoming involved with a neglectful family. Evidence of neglect is built up over a period of time. Professionals should therefore compile a chronology and discuss concerns with any other agencies which may be involved with the family, to establish whether seemingly minor incidents are in fact part of a wider pattern of neglectful parenting.
4.3.26 When working in areas where poverty and deprivation are commonplace professionals may become desensitised to some of the indicators of neglect.
- Failure by parents or carers to meet essential physical needs (e.g. adequate or appropriate food, clothes, warmth, hygiene and medical or dental care);
- Failure by parents or carers to meet essential emotional needs (e.g. to feel loved and valued, to live in a safe, predictable home environment);
- A child seen to be listless, apathetic and unresponsive with no apparent medical cause;
- Failure of child to grow within normal expected pattern, with accompanying weight loss;
- Child thrives away from home environment;
- Child frequently absent from school;
- Child left with inappropriate carers (e.g. too young, complete strangers);
- Child left with adults who are intoxicated or violent;
- Child abandoned or left alone for excessive periods.
4.3.28 Although neglect can be perpetrated consciously as an abusive act by a parent, it is rarely an act of deliberate cruelty. Neglect is usually defined as an omission of care by the child’s parent, often due to one or more unmet needs of their own. These could include domestic violence (see section 5.11), mental health issues (see section 5.29), learning disabilities (see section 5.30), substance misuse (see section 5.31), or social isolation / exclusion (see section 5.1.1 to 5.1.4), this list is not exhaustive.
While offering support and services to these parents, it is crucial that professionals maintain a clear focus on the needs of the child.
Again, the school has some correct indicators and has missed some, but more importantly has missed the key piece of context, which is that these indicators often mean little individually, and that a picture needs to be built up over time. This means proper record-keeping and regular contact and information-sharing with other professionals.