Needs of a Neglected Child – Parental Responsibilities
Understanding the basic human needs is the key to recognizing the signs of child neglect. Children are dependent on adults from the time they are born. The absence of some or all the basic needs determines whether or not neglect exists.
When I facilitate in the school system on the subject of neglect, we play Pictionary and Charades to identify the basic needs. I use these games as the building blocks for the students to learn, in a fun way, more about the signs of child neglect and what constitutes neglect. Basic human needs are split into two categories: emotional needs and physical needs.
Caring and Love - Though it seems obvious, it’s important enough to say anyway: A caregiver would show caring and love with hugs and kisses, compliments, spending time with the child. The child needs to feel important. A caregiver could very well love the child, but if the child doesn’t feel loved, then neglect is probable.
Hugs and Kisses - are included several times within these examples, because hugs and kisses encompass both the physical and emotional fundamentals of the basic human needs. Here it is listed as an emotional need; children feel loved when there is human contact.
Respect - Most caregivers would agree that children should respect them and other adults. However, many caregivers fail to realize that respect is a two-way street, and that children learn to respect by being respected, not by being told to respect others. This is not to say that discipline can’t enter the picture; firmness and decisiveness is an integral part of parenting. Respecting a child comes in the form of listening to a child, speaking to the child in a way that demonstrates respect for the emotional and physical well-being of the child. A child who is constantly put down, degraded, and/or otherwise left feeling as though they don’t matter is a child suffering from neglect, a child not getting their basic human needs met.
Moral Guidance and Discipline - Moral guidance is teaching a child right from wrong. Discipline is following through to ensure the child is learning the lesson.
Time Together - means communicating and interacting with a child. With small children it can be getting down on the floor with the child and playing and talking with them. With youth, going out to watch the youth’s soccer or football game(s), taking her/him to the mall for shopping, and having dinner with the family are three examples of communicating with adolescents.
Encouragement, Reassurance, Praise, Support and Attention - A child needs to feel valued. Phrases such as “Well done!”, “Good job!”, etc. are clear examples of encouragement, praise, support, and attention. Reassurance is the act of making a child feel a sense of self-worth. This is particularly important when a child/youth makes mistakes. If the child is berated for these mistakes, his/her self-esteem is adversely affected. Low self-esteem is one of the signs of child neglect. Focusing on the positive instead of dwelling on the negative is a powerful way to ensure a healthy self-worth.
Listening Ears - Of the basic human needs, listening ears is as simple as it sounds: paying attention and hearing what a child has to say, without judgment.
Education - An education falls under basic needs because a child must learn to read, write, add, subtract, multiply and divide in order to effectively contribute to society as an adult. An education is mandatory in North America. It is the responsibility of parents or caregivers to send their child to school–in Canada, kindergarten through grade 12–or to home school their child. It is the child/youth’s responsibility to do homework.
Food - Though there is room for what we call junk food in a child’s diet, overall, food has to be nutritious and should follow basic nutritional guidelines: fruit, vegetables, proteins, grains and cereals. Adequate quantity of food is just as important as quality. Poor nutrition is one of the top signs of child neglect. With poverty, food is often the first of the basic human needs that is neglected. Does this mean there is neglect if proper nutrition is not provided when a family is stricken with poverty? If neglect by definition is a choice as identified earlier in this page, then the answer to this question must be a resounding ‘no’. But the answer isn’t as simple as that. And even if the answer is no, the child or children are not getting proper nutrition, regardless of the cause.
Clothing - must be clean and appropriate for the weather: warm coat and boots for winter, and adequate clothing to protect from other outdoor elements. This is one of the signs of child neglect that is most often noticed.
Shelter - the criteria for appropriate shelter is that it be warm, dry, clean and safe. Housing can be an apartment, basement suite, house, or any lodgings that fit the above guidelines. Inappropriate housing is another of the most determinable signs of child neglect.
Safe Environment - encompasses all aspects of safety in, around and outside of the home (like safe driving when in the car), and takes into account the age of the child or children. This not only means keeping the child safe from harsh outdoor elements, the removal of dangerous surroundings, and the incorporation of safety rules, it also includes ensuring that young children are not left unattended around hot stoves, ovens, furnaces, hot water, etc.
Supervision - is generally not thought of when considering the basic human needs. It is often one of the signs of child neglect that is determined only after a child is injured in some way. For small children, supervision means not leaving them unattended. Supervision is required daily and during potentially dangerous activities such as swimming and driving. With adolescents, supervision means asking where the youth is going, who he/she is going with, what time he/she will be back, and imposing curfews. Again, I’m stating the obvious when I say a caregiver needs to know where their children or youth are at all times, otherwise child neglect is present.
Good Hygiene - is as simple as making sure the child is bathed regularly and that their hair is clean. In terms of signs of child neglect, your sense of smell is the best indicator here.
Medical and Dental Care - Medical care means getting a child to the doctor in a timely manner when the child is not feeling well, the child is in pain, has a fever, and/or the child is vomiting.
Dental care requires that a caregiver provide a toothbrush, toothpaste and dental floss for the child to keep their teeth clean. If a child has a toothache, the caregiver must get him/her in to see a dentist. Rotting teeth, coupled with ongoing bad breath is one of the signs of child neglect.
Note: Braces or other orthodontal work are not considered basic human needs.
Physical Touch: Hugs and Kisses - Here we are with hugs and kisses listed again, this time as a physical need. The act of touching is a primary need for children, for human beings in general. This primary need was tragically demonstrated during war time when orphaned babies, too many for the scant reserve of nursing staff to hold, rock or even touch, except for occasional diaper changes, died as a result of lack of human contact.
Adequate Rest - is paramount for children and youth to function properly. This is not just curfews for youth, but with a small child it means she/he needs to be in bed early to ensure the child gets enough sleep. Also, a mattress, clean sheets and an appropriately warm blanket are necessary to provide a setting for the child to get adequate rest. If a child is constantly too tired to perform day to day activities, or if the child is frequently dozing off, these may be signs of child neglect.
Exercise and Fresh Air - are two of the basic human needs that Canadian schools have taken into account with our mandated physical education program. While there is no pre-determined number of hours set as the minimum required, experts advise that children should receive at least 3 hours of exercise per week, and 1 hour of fresh air daily.
Fact: [Research into common characteristics shared by neglectful parents show that] many neglecting mothers possessed a limited capacity to meet their child’s needs because, as children, they experienced childhood neglect (Polansky et al., 1985(1)).
(1) Polansky, N., Ammons, P. & Gaudin, J. (1985). Loneliness and isolation in child neglect. Social Casework, 66 38-47.