It’s a very sad fact that in the UK one child in every ten has experienced neglect. The NSPCC says neglect is the most common reason for taking child protection action, and around 30 per cent of calls received by their helpline are from people concerned that a child they know is being neglected. It’s obviously a very serious problem in our society, and one that has lasting effects long into adulthood.
When I was writing my new novel, Not Thomas, I based the central character on children I met when I was a teacher in one of the most disadvantaged areas of Wales. One five-year-old would stand for hours at the window while his mum slept on in bed. He’d wait for other children to go past on their way to school, and then he’d know it was time for him to leave too.
Little Tomos, the child in my novel, is being badly neglected by his mum, and his teacher is keeping a close eye on him. In real life, signs of neglect can be hard to spot – so what are the key warning signs?
Well, schools look out for a child who:
• comes to school hungry
• is often tired and listless
• is dirty and dressed in unwashed clothes or without a coat in cold weather
• regularly has untreated injuries as a result of poor supervision at home
• has underdeveloped speech and social skills due to a lack of interaction with adults.
When a teacher sees a child with more than one of these warning signs, they will:
• consult and follow their school’s Child Protection policy
• begin to keep a close eye on the child, writing down and dating their concerns
• listen carefully when the child speaks and believe what they say
• listen to their own instincts about the child
• take seriously concerns of neighbours and members of the wider community.
This is where parents who have concerns about a child they know can help. Sometimes we’ll be put in the terrible position of being worried about a friend of our child, and we might suspect they’re being neglected. So what should we do?
• Confide in the class or head teacher, however uncomfortable it feels to go behind another parent’s back. Our concerns might help reinforce the teacher’s own suspicions.
• Out of school time, ring the NSPCC 24-hour helpline on 0808 800 5000.
• They also have an email: firstname.lastname@example.org
The child in Not Thomas is fictitious, but child neglect is a very real problem in our society. If we are all vigilant and we raise our concerns, we can help to safeguard children and drastically reduce the number whose lives are so tragically blighted by neglect.
Published by Honno, Not Thomas Sara Gethin’s new novel, is available from Amazon and bookshops.