It has been found that the ability to look after a child effectively depends upon the parents' coping skills, emotional maturity, mental capacity and understanding of the children.

The other day at school I was moved almost to tears. The teacher brought Suraj who is 5 years old into my office all ragged. His clothes were not ironed, his books were torn and his hair was messy. But the worst was still to come.

The most horrifying thing of all was that his breakfast box smelled unbearably. It had not been cleaned for days and the food in it had a terrible odour.

This little angel was required to eat that food and deal with all the humiliation that his classmates had been putting him through due to his appearance, all due to the neglect of his parents.

What is child neglect?

The US Department of Health and Human Service's definition of child neglect is "a condition in which a caretaker responsible for the child, either deliberately or by extraordinary inattentiveness, permits the child to experience avoidable present suffering and/or fails to provide one or more of the ingredients generally deemed essential for developing a person's physical, intellectual, and emotional capacities."

Every child needs love and care. The fact is that children do not ask to be brought into the world. Thus, when we as adults take that decision to have children it comes with the responsibility of ensuring that we provide them with a caring and nurturing environment.

Neglect can have grave effects on the social, emotional, intellectual and psychological development of a child. Studies on the effects of neglect highlight the fact that children who are victims of this kind of upbringing have continuous problems in functioning.


As toddlers these children have lower self-esteem, poor control of impulses and display greater frustration, anger and non-compliance than children who are not neglected. They also have problems with peer interaction and difficulty developing and maintaining healthy social relationships.

As they grow older children who are neglected are found to have academic problems. They are inattentive, uninterested and lack initiative and confidence in their studies. Many of these children develop serious learning deficits, functioning at below average levels in school, and have serious behaviour problems. Juvenile delinquency is often associated with neglect.

Sara was displaying severe behaviour problems in school when her teacher referred her to me for an assessment.

Most of her behaviour was attention seeking. Also, in addition to her problematic behaviour, Sara often came to school in unkempt clothes, homework not done, books and supplies missing. She was aggressive toward the other children and thus had very few friends.

Attention seeking

Upon studying the case history I learnt that Sara's parents were both working and she really wanted her mother, who came home only by 10pm, to spend more time with her. Since she was not getting the attention she needed at home, Sara sought that attention from her teachers at school.

Sara's mother was hardly involved in her daughter's life and school. When I met her mother she confessed that she never spent time with Sara because she loved her work and did not feel too responsible about the well-being of her daughter.

There is no identifiable cause to explain why parents neglect their children. However, it has been found that the ability to parent a child effectively depends upon the parents' coping skills, emotional maturity, mental capacity and understanding of the children.

Many times mothers who have been brought up in abusive or neglectful environments are found to neglect their own children. Thus, unresolved feelings from the past leave parents unable to provide a consistent and nurturing environment for their children.

First step

The first step toward helping end this grave problem is to look within to identify the reasons for the neglect.

It is important to establish a social support system which allows you to cope effectively with the reasons that you are not able to provide your child with the nurturing environment that he/she needs. Take time to re-evaluate your parenting skills. Be honest with yourself: do you enjoy being a parent and are you willing to work for it?

When it comes to parenting, the few absolutes are that children must be nurtured, loved and cared for.

Parenting is difficult. No one expects you to know how to do it all. If you could benefit from some help with parenting, seek it ? getting help when you need it is an essential part of being a good parent.

Talk to a professional or any trusted adult who will help you manage your stresses better. The child that is so lovingly placed in your care deserves every bit of effort to help him lead a life that supports his physical, emotional and intellectual well-being.

? The writer is a DOH, Dubai and US certified guidance counsellor with an M.Ed degree in school counselling from Boston, USA. She is currently working as co-ordinator ? counselling services, GEMS, UAE.