Guest Author - Trish Deneen
Abuse takes many forms. While the word abuse itself conjures images of bruising or other signs of physical attack, neglect can have many of the same short and long-term effects that physical abuse does. Neglect may be deliberate as a result of substance abuse and otherwise selfish and indifferent parents or as a result of depression or disability where the parents aren't able to take care of their children. This type of abuse can also fall somewhere in the range between these two extremes.
Signs and Effects of Neglect
Some signs of neglect are obvious such as lack of cleanliness and weight loss due to hunger. The kids may be left home on their own a lot and medical conditions may worsen. Teenagers are better at hiding neglect as they are able to take care of some of their own needs, but they may also be taking on parental responsibility. This can cause stress, depression, failing grades, falling under negative influences and acting out.
Neglect can leave a child feeling unworthy of attention and care. If they're continually neglected, this feeling can last well into their adult years which can cause problems with relationships. They may also develop constant feelings of helplessness and never having enough.
How to Get Help
Maybe you're a parent who believes you can't provide basic needs for your children and have no family to help you. If this is the case, then get help immediately. What may seem like small things now, i.e. no money for extras, can lead to larger problems such as lack of food and even shelter if you're unable to provide for your family.
Some churches provide immediate food and clothing assistance and you don't always have to be a member. Other sources of help are the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, aka SNAP (formerly known as the Food Stamp Program), local homeless shelters, your local Department of Social Services and the Social Security Administration.
If you believe that depression or other mental illness is causing you to neglect your child, please contact a medical professional immediately and be honest about your home situation. Your doctor can help you directly with the illness or send you to an appropriate professional. You'll most likely be given contact info for local Social Services to help get you immediate assistance for food or other essentials.
If you have a substance abuse problem, there is no excuse for exposing your child to your issues. Sooner or later, the consequences of your actions most likely will come back to you whether your children are taken into protective custody or you become estranged from them later in life. Worse, you could literally be the death of your child.
Get help now through one of the many substance abuse programs available. In the U.S., call 1-800-662-HELP (4357) to find a local treatment center. If you prefer an online search tool, visit the Substance Abuse Treatment Facility Locator sponsored by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
If you know of a neglected child and want to help, there are several options. In many cases, protective services may need to be called, especially regarding substance abuse. The parents are not only exposing their kids to their own problems but also possibly opening their home to drug dealers or other substance abusers who could care less about the safety of the children and may be abusers themselves.
Whether you’re a family member or an acquaintance of the parents, you can help by contacting the organizations mentioned above or the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-CHILD. They can refer you to the appropriate local services for your specific situation.
Child Abuse and Neglect: Recognizing and Preventing Child Abuse. Help Guide. Accessed July 2010.