By Elise Ellsworth
In recent years neglect and other forms of child abuse have been on the rise. These include the tragic 2016 case of a young Scottish boy, Liam Fee. Little Liam was subject to continual physical abuse, had been chained up or locked in a makeshift cage, tied up at night, and forced to take cold showers. His life was one of misery, fear, and horror. Tragically, Liam was found dead in his Edinburgh home from the severe effects of neglect and physical abuse.
Child neglect is currently the most common of all forms of child maltreatment in the United States. Indeed, 78.3 % of instances of child maltreatment in the United States are instances of neglect. Neglect is defined as “the failure of a caregiver to meet the basic needs of a child.” These include needs for food, shelter, clothing and sanitary living conditions. It can also include failure to properly supervise the child and child abandonment. Neglect is the most common cause of death among abused children. Indeed, 72.9% of child abuse fatalities are the result of neglect.
Signs of neglect may include the following, taken from a list in a British online newsmagazine:
- Living in an unsuitable home environment for example dog mess being left or not having any heating
- Poor appearance and hygiene, they may be smelly or have unwashed clothes
- Left alone for a long time
- Untreated injuries, medical and dental issues
- Poor language, communication or social skills
- Seem hungry or turn up to school without having breakfast or any lunch money
In many neglect cases a child’s parents have lost the ability to meet the child’s emotional or physical needs. These are skills the parents may never have possessed in the first place, though substance abuse plays a large part in the problem. However, other factors also play into neglect; self-centered lifestyles or single parenthood, which puts massive pressure on one parent to care for the needs of the children. Perhaps one of the most-overlooked contributing factors in neglect is that prospective parents may lack training in basic skills such as cooking, maintaining a clean home environment, and child supervision.
How might we address the problem of neglect? How might we help? We can help parents with words of encouragement and occasional respite. Parent mentoring programs are available in most communities which match parents with mentors who teach them about budgeting, home organization, and appropriate discipline. We can love, encourage, and support mothers in our own neighborhoods. We can help those who may need substance abuse treatment to find appropriate care. We can look to the needs of our own children.
The needs of children will never change. They need time and adequate supervision. They need nourishment. They need physical and emotional care. They need love. May we ever be mindful of the needs of our children, those within our home and those around us. May we ever meet those needs and help our children to grow and thrive in our homes and communities.