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Neglect, Abandonment/Separation Caregiver Incapacity

Neglect occurs when a parent/guardian/ caregiver fails to provide basic needs such as adequate food, sleep, safety, supervision, or proper clothing. Neglect also occurs when a child has a medical, mental, emotional or developmental condition that requires services or treatment and the person having charge of the child does not provide these services or treatment. 


Note that most parent and caregivers do not intend to neglect their children. It usually results from ignorance about appropriate care for children or an inability to plan ahead.

Abandonment/separation occurs when a child has been left alone unsupervised, or when a parent has died or is unavailable to exercise his or her custodial rights over a child and has not made adequate provision for a child’s care and custody. It also occurs when a child is in residential placement and the parent refuses, or is unable or unwilling, to resume the child’s care and custody.

Caregiver incapacity is when a caregiver demonstrates, or has demonstrated in the past, characteristics that indicate the child would be at risk of harm without intervention. These characteristics can include a history of abusing/neglecting a child, being unable to protect a child from harm, problems such as drug or alcohol abuse, mental health issues or limited caregiving skills. Note this means that no harm has come to a child and no evidence is apparent that a child may be in need of intervention as of ye.t

The signs and indicators of abuse and neglect may include but are not limited to those that follow:


It is important to realize that the presence of any one indicator is not conclusive proof that a child has been neglected.

In most instances, neglected children will exhibit a number of behavioural and physical indicators.

Physical indicators in children

  • Poor hygiene

  • Unattended physical problems or medical needs (e.g., dental work, glasses)

  • Consistent lack of supervision

  • An infant or young child may:

    • not be growing as expected

    • be losing weight

    • look pale

    • not be eating well

  • not dressed properly for the weather

  • dirty or unwashed

  • bad diaper rash or other skin problems

  • always hungry

  • lack of medical and/or dental care

Behavioural indicators in children

  • Pale, listless, unkempt

  • Frequent absence from school

  • Inappropriate clothing for the weather, dirty clothes

  • Frequently forgets a lunch

  • Does not meet developmental milestones as expected

  • Appears to have little energy

  • Cries very little

  • Does not play with toys or notice people 

  • Does not seem to care for anyone in particular

  • May be very demanding of affection or attention from others

  • Takes care of a lot of their needs on their own

  • Has a lot of adult responsibility at home

  • Discloses neglect (e.g., says there is no one at home)

Behaviours observed in adults who neglect children

  • Does not provide for the child’s basic needs

  • Has a disorganized home life, with few regular routines (e.g., always brings the child very early, picks up the child very late)

  • Does not supervise the child properly (e.g., leaves the child alone, in a dangerous place, or with someone who cannot look after the child safely)

  • May indicate that the child is hard to care for, hard to feed, describes the child as demanding

  • May say that the child was or is unwanted

  • May ignore the child who is trying to be loving

  • Has difficulty dealing with personal problems and needs

  • Is more concerned with own self than the child

  • Fails to use services offered/recommended or to keep child’s appointments

  • Does not act on concerns that are discussed

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