What is neglect?

Stories of being neglected as a child are sadly quite common. In fact, young adults can suffer many different types of neglect. Remember, parents have an influence on our wellbeing - whether they’re present or not. But what is neglect and what help is available if you’re suffering? The Mix explains.

A young couple are discussing neglect. This is a full-body image.

Neglect can happen at any age

Just because you’re old enough to feed and dress yourself, it doesn’t mean you’re immune to neglect. Contrary to popular knowledge, it isn’t just a child welfare issue. The thing is, no matter what age you are, feeling like your parents or carers genuinely don’t care about you can affect your life in loads of different ways. 

And there are multiple different types of neglect which deserve to be highlighted. Rather than there only being a conversation about being neglected as a child or child abuse (which is still extremely important, but hopefully you get our point) . Regardless, more than anything, neglect can lead to painful feelings of abandonment.

Some tips to recognise the signs of being abused or neglected

Being neglected as a child can be a form of long term suffering. But, generally speaking, it only really gets recognised once people become older since many people don’t know exactly what constitutes neglect. Some common signs of neglect include:

  • You’ve noticed there’s rarely a responsible adult at home.
  • You feel unsafe when they’re around.
  • They don’t provide you with basic things you need to get by. This includes meals, clothes, or stuff for school.
  • They don’t take you to the doctor when you’re ill.
  • You don’t feel you can talk to them when you’re upset about things, or they offer no emotional support. This is emotional neglect.
  • Your friends’ parents or caregivers act differently to yours when you visit their home.
  • You’re allowed to stay out later than your friends, and your parents are less strict.
  • Your parental figures show a lack of support for anything you do. For example, they don’t come to your football games or gigs.

Are my parents taking advantage of me?

As you get older, you may notice that they have unrealistic expectations of your academic potential or they’re pushing you to find a job and finance yourself. Of course, as you mature parents’ expectations do change, but that shift should come from a place of love. Ask yourself – do you feel they’re pushing you for the right reasons?

YMCA England’s Ali Dean says ideally you should feel like you’re in a “supported environment”. “It’s all about how growing up is handled and how well supported the young person is,” she says.

Some parents will ask you to cook, clean and manage household budgets because they’re genuinely interested in aiding your transition from child to adult. But if your parents just wanna abandon their responsibilities and leave running the entire household up to you, then it’s a different story. That’s a form of neglect.

How does being neglected as a child or a young adult make you feel?

Neglect often provokes a sense of shame, because you don’t want to admit that there’s something ‘wrong’ with your family and/or a specific family member. You may even feel guilty for having bad thoughts about your parents. This could cause you to hide what’s actually going on and become introverted. Equally, it could make you angry and aggressive. Either way, you’ll generally feel low and find it hard to concentrate. You may also experience educational neglect and your school work could suffer.

Why does neglect happen?

It’s not necessarily all your parents’ fault. Often neglect happens because parents themselves weren’t raised properly and they haven’t developed the right skills to look after someone else. It also takes place when they have other complex problems. This includes an addiction, mental health problems, being a single parent, or when there’s a threat of violence at home. You can learn more about how to cope with these issues by clicking any of these links:

How to get help when you’re being neglected

We’re not gonna lie, it’s anything but easy. If you’ve experienced neglect, one of the hardest things to do is speak up, but it’s the one thing you have to do. You need to tell someone you trust. Ali sympathises with this struggle and says one of the major issues with neglect is how to articulate it. “It’s hard to find your voice,” she says. “Young people don’t know it’s safe to say – that’s me, I don’t feel safe.

Don’t be afraid to tell a teacher, extended family member, family friend or a youth worker. Easier said than done, we know. But try to describe what’s going on at home and how it makes you feel. Focus on getting out of the current situation, not what the future holds. It’s also important to note that if you’re suffering from any form of physical abuse you should alert the authorities as soon as possible and as safely as possible.

Naturally, many young children as well as young people fear that social services will get involved and they’ll be put into a home. So it’s important to know that if you’re older than 18, this is impossible as you’re legally considered an adult. Plus, if an external organisation gets involved, their first step will always be to mediate and try to make amends within the family.

Leaving home because of neglect

It might be tempting to go it alone. But living independently and finding accommodation is really tough. Technically speaking, after 18, parents have no legal obligation towards their children. This means that they might actually ask you to leave. On the other hand, if you go against their will it might be harder to return. “Nine times out of ten if a young person has moved away they never come back home,” says Ali. “But that doesn’t mean that they don’t underestimate the difficulties of living independently, particularly if they’re a young parent. Or wish they could move back from time to time.”

If you have to leave, your local authority might help you find accommodation. For example, in a YMCA hostel.

Next Steps


abuse| parents

By Gabriella Jozwiak

Updated on 14-Jun-2022