Most people when they hear the word 'abuse' think of a child who is being sexually or physically abused - they do not so frequently picture a young person who may not be receiving the care, support, love and attention they need to lead the happy and healthy childhood they deserve and need. They might then be shocked to discover that neglect is the UK's biggest child protection concern - it is also the type of abuse which we at the NSPCC helpline, the national service for adults to report concerns about a child, is contacted about more than any other.
Neglect is the on-going failure to meet a child's basic needs and it manifests itself in many ways including an impairment of emotional behaviour and educational development which can have consequences in adulthood. High profile serious case reviews into the deaths of young children such as Daniel Pelka and Hamza Khan have highlighted the catastrophic harm that can happen when a child is severely neglected and there is a failure to respond. It is these horrendous cases that make the headlines, which have encouraged people to be alert to neglect in young children.
We know this because of the large number of worried adults who contact us here at the NSPCC about neglect in under 11s. Our Hurting Inside Report released this week shows that last year (2015/14) 23,037 children were reported by the public and referred by the NSPCC helpline to police or children's services because of serious concerns about neglect. We are so grateful for these people who have acted upon their concerns and fought for the children in their communities.
However only 16% of these reports were regarding children aged 12-18 - and we are concerned, along with other child protection professionals, that there may be an underreporting of older children suffering from neglect. For example, consider the situation where you have a family under pressure who are severally neglecting a child under 12. Unless there has been a positive intervention within that family, it's highly unlikely that the child will stop being neglected as they get older. On the contrary, this prolonged neglect can become worse as the child learns to fend for themselves out of necessity, give up on anything changing, often disguising the abuse they are suffering and are reluctant to approach services for help.
As children get older, they often begin to hide the signs of neglect, such as shame and embarrassment, and as a result both the public and those working with children can underestimate the impact of this abuse on teenagers. Often adults minimise the impact of neglect because sometimes they feel that older children are more in control of their lives than they really are. So we are really concerned that thousands of adolescents may not be receiving the support they need at a crucial time in their lives.
So how do we spot the less obvious signs of neglect in teenagers?
Neglect manifests itself in many forms; in older children who have been neglected for a long time this can impact on their mental wellbeing - these children are more likely to experience problems including depression and struggle with their education and have low self esteem.
Young people who don't get the love and care they need from their parents may also find it difficult to maintain healthy relationships; they might have behavioral problems, learning difficulties and they might find it difficult to communicate with others.
They may also take risks such as running away from home, breaking the law, abusing drugs or alcohol, or getting involved in dangerous relationships. You can find out more about how to spot these signs on the NSPCC website.
So what should you do if you suspect a child is being neglected? We know that children seldom recognise they are being neglected; our report reveals that less than 1 per cent (1016) of the children who contacted the NSPCC's ChildLine service last year directly indicated that they were being neglected by their parents or carers.
Often a young person, who is being neglected, just wants someone to talk to. This person, whether it is a teacher, doctor or even a family member, can play a crucial role in helping a child suffering from this type of abuse.
The most important thing, if you are concerned about a young person, is not to delay in reporting your concerns. At the NSPCC helpline we understand that you might be uncertain about what you have seen or heard - and that is fine - because we are here to listen to your concerns and to help. You can also remain anonymous.
If you're an adult and you need help or advice please call the NSPCC helpline for free on 0808 800 5000, email firstname.lastname@example.org or text us on 88858. Alternatively if you are concerned about a child then please encourage them to contact ChildLine on (0800 1111) or direct them to the website www.childline.org.uk - they can contact us anytime day or night.
Your intervention could help to save a young person's life.