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The Impact of Neglect on Child Development


Child maltreatment includes all kinds of abuse or neglect, which can, in some way, affect the safety, development, and well-being of a child. In addition, it also covers all forms of neglect and mistreatment in a child under 18 years from any custodian, including anyone responsible for taking care of the child, be their parent or mandated custodian (Pekarsky, 2022). As a mandated reporter, it is crucial to be aware of the different types of maltreatment and how they affect child development, including neglect.

Definition and Description of Neglect

Neglect is identified as the lack of fulfillment or provision for a child in multiple aspects, such as physical, emotional, and educational neglect. However, neglect differs from abuse because it is usually without intent to harm (Pekarsky, 2022). Physical neglect is the lack of proper nutritional, hygienic, and medical care. Emotional neglect refers to not attending to the child’s needs emotionally, like affection, care, attention, or support. Moreover, educational neglect happens when the caregiver fails to provide appropriate education, such as failing to enroll a child in school or not supporting their learning at home.

Impact on Child Development

Neglect can profoundly affect every domain of a child’s development – physical, cognitive, language, and emotional-.

Physical Development

Neglected infants are characterized by growth retardation and late motor development. Chronic malnutrition and the lack of access to medical treatment present dangers such as anemia, poor immune system weakness, and increased susceptibility to illnesses. Such neglected toddlers and preschoolers may demonstrate gross and fine motor development delays. They can also have poor coordination and weakness (Wheeler et al., 2021). Furthermore, poor supervision may cause accidents and physical injuries due to neglect.

Cognitive Development

Neglected children frequently exhibit delays in intellectual and cognitive abilities. The lack of stimulating and enriching environments often hinders their ability to explore, learn, and develop problem-solving skills. Cognitive delays can persist into school-age years, impacting academic achievements and intellectual potential. Neglected children may also struggle with attention and concentration difficulties, leading to poor academic performance and limited educational opportunities.

Language development

Neglect has a negative impact on the language development of children. The lack of meaningful interactions and language stimulation may result in late talk development, limited vocabulary, and poor communication strategies. In particular, neglected children may have problems with self-expression, understanding others, and establishing connections through language. Both academic performance and social relationships suffer from persistent language delays in childhood.

Emotional Development

A child’s lack of stable, warm, and affectionate caregivers can provoke attachment problems and emotional uncertainties. If an infant is neglected, they will most likely not be able to develop a secure attachment, which may eventually result in difficulties regulating emotions and developing trust. Moreover, preschoolers and toddlers may demonstrate behavioral issues, including aggression, withdrawal, or failure to regulate emotions.

Social Development

Neglected children often struggle with social interactions and forming healthy relationships. Disorganized care leads to the development of social skill deficits like sharing, turn-taking, and cooperating with others (Avdibegović Brkić, 2020). Children who are neglected have difficulties understanding other social cues. This, in turn, may result in increased social isolation and making friends. However, these social deficits may extend well beyond infancy and into the school years by affecting peer relationships.

Application to Work with Toddlers.

Professionals working with young children need to understand the effect of neglect on child development. As an early childhood educator, I can likewise use strategies to stimulate the development of resilience in neglected children within their classroom environments. This can be achieved by establishing an environment that stimulates their growth, ensuring consistent and positive interactions with significant people in the lives of these children, and providing activities that advance cognitive development. More importantly, one should also be attentive and observe signs of abuse that could include poor hygiene or frequent absences, among other physical and emotional indicators.


Neglect is a form of maltreatment that has far-reaching effects on a child’s development. It impacts the physical, intellectual/cognitive, language, emotional, and social domains. Early identification, intervention, and support are crucial in mitigating the long-term consequences of neglect. As a mandated reporter, it is important to be knowledgeable about the signs and impacts of neglect to provide appropriate care and intervention for children who may be experiencing this form of maltreatment.


Avdibegović, E., & Brkić, M. (2020). Child neglect-causes and consequences. Psychiatria Danubina, 32(suppl. 3), 337-342.

Pekarsky, A.R. (2022, November 1). Overview of child maltreatment – Pediatrics – Merck manuals professional edition. Merck Manuals Professional Edition.

Wheeler, A. C., Gwaltney, A., Raspa, M., Okoniewski, K. C., Berry-Kravis, E., Botteron, K. N., … & Bailey, D. B. (2021). Emergence of developmental delay in infants and toddlers with an FMR1 mutation. Pediatrics, 147(5).


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