Children recognise signs of neglect in peers: Survey

Children are often good at noticing their school mates who face neglect at home says a new study.

Researchers for Action for Children in a survey of over 3,000 eight to 12 year-olds found that 44% of children under 12 have seen other children who were dirty and smelled. Nearly two-thirds of children have seen suspected signs of neglect among their peers in classrooms, playgrounds, neighborhoods and activity clubs. A little over 40% had noted their fellow pupils being late or missing school, while 34% said they were aware of children not appearing to have friends.

These neglected children were often ignored the study showed but many were also being bullied or ridiculed. The surveyed children were asked how they felt peers treated these neglected youngsters. 40% said others were mean to them and 41% said they would be laughed at. And when asked how they themselves would behave, 20% admitted that they would ignore a neglected child.

There were regional variations to this trend. In London, for example, 68% children knew the signs of neglect in a peer. In Northern Ireland 65% children knew and in Wales 56% were aware.

Hugh Thornberry, the charity's director of children's services said, “The fact that children as young as eight are reporting potential signs of neglect in their peers is a strong reflection of the vital need for effective early intervention services… If we work with families at the earliest possible stage of their lives, we can work to prevent neglect still being an issue in their lives when they are older.”

He urges the Government to come forth. “It is not the responsibility of children to be acting on potential signs of neglect that they witness…However, adults and professionals must listen to children and ensure that they know who to speak to when they spot something that worries them...so that the child who is concerned is supported and so that any potentially concerning situations can be looked into.”

Thornberry also warns against false alarms. “Reporting a suspected case of child neglect does not automatically result in the child concerned being removed from the family – it gives professionals the chance to intervene and support the family, giving them the best possible chance to get their lives back on track,” he said.

Louise Warde Hunter, of charity Action for Children, led the survey. She said, “Child neglect is a real danger to children if it is not tackled early on…It's worrying that children as young as eight are spotting these issues in other children, confirming our fears that child neglect remains a widespread issue…The research suggests that too many children are lonely, dirty, hungry and possibly not getting the love and basic care that they deserve…We must raise awareness and make sure the resources are there to help children as early as possible to tackle child neglect and prevent it from cascading down generations.”

The charity published research this July that shows that investment in early intervention in these cases can save up to £486 billion over 20 years as they impact on crime, mental ill-health and family breakdown.

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Written by

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Dr. Ananya Mandal is a doctor by profession, lecturer by vocation and a medical writer by passion. She specialized in Clinical Pharmacology after her bachelor's (MBBS). For her, health communication is not just writing complicated reviews for professionals but making medical knowledge understandable and available to the general public as well.

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