Last updated: 26.02.20

Child Neglect at Home

Child neglect in the home can be one of the most heartbreaking issues that crops up in child abuse cases. The official definition according to the NSPCC describes child neglect as the ‘ongoing failure to meet a child's basic needs’ and is the most common form of child abuse across the country. It can have a hugely detrimental effect on the wellbeing and development of children, from a physical, medical and mental point of view. Each home neglect case brings out new lessons, failings and instances to learn from, and in this article, we’ll look into three prominent examples of child neglect that have occurred in the last decade.

Glasgow, Scotland

The sad story of Lauren resulted in the two year old toddler’s death as a result of child neglect, and the jailing of Lauren’s mother and her partner. The case also highlighted serious failings by the health and social services who missed the signs of neglect and malnourishment which would eventually lead to Lauren’s death.

Lauren Wade was found dead in a north Glasgow flat which belong to her mother, Margaret Wade. She was severely malnourished and filthy, discovered on a sofa in a dirty flat lined with full bin bags and rubbish scattered across the floor. While she was not found to have suffered any injury or disease, she was exceptionally thin and had a serious infection of head lice. This infection was so bad, the head lice had spread to the sofa and bored a hole through the fabric. Lauren’s hands and feet were lined with black dirt while her teeth were found to be showing the signs of rotting. A toxicology report was carried out on her body which revealed traces of alcohol as well as diazepam, an anti-depressant which occasionally uses the marketing name Valium. Two other children, similarly unkempt, were taken from the flat and held by police.

Lauren’s mother, Margaret Wade and her partner, Marie Sweeney were recently convicted for neglect and ill-treatment, being handed sentence of six years and four months of jailtime. Colin Anderson, the social worker who led an investigation into the incident described it as the ‘most shocking case of neglect he had seen in 50 years’ and described Margaret Wade and Marie Sweeney’s treatment of the child ‘the most deviant and devious parenting’ he had ever encountered. The pair misled social service and health workers several times over the course of 14 points of contact including eight home visits, with services believing that Wade was a struggling single mother who was working to improve conditions. They were not aware that Wade was in a relationship with Marie Sweeney and a review into the work of the social services concluded that they had not done enough to prevent the neglect, despite it being reported by teachers at Lauren’s primary school.

Anderson said of the case that it had already changed how services across Glasgow work around cases of neglect, but that the case highlighted how workers would need to be more inquisitive and to not be afraid to challenge parents until they enquiries were satisfied.

Coventry, West Midlands

2015 saw the distressing case of a pair of young children who were starved and left neglected by a mother and her partner in Coventry. The authorities were alerted to the neglect by staff from the Jeremy Kyle Show, on which the 23- year-old mother and her 26-year-old partner had appeared.

The children were found in dirty surroundings in the mother’s home. They were cold and starving, and foster staff who took the children in after their discovery described how they ate ‘like little animals’ when they were fed. The Jeremy Kyle staff came across the pair when they embarked on a research visit for the show, and what they saw prompted them to contact the police. The children were ‘unresponsive, emotionally vacant and dirty’ and smelled of urine and faeces. Both were underweight. They described faeces stains on the carpets and clothes across the house, with a cold temperature throughout the rooms.   Both parents were promptly arrested.

Both children have been taken into care by authorities and are currently with foster families. Adoption is thought to be likely in the coming years and the two are thought to be responding well, putting on weight and catching up on lost juvenile development. The parents have since been sentenced with a 12 month jail sentence each.

The couple were known to social services and it was reported that support was provided to the family from government agencies. A review of the handling by the safeguarding services was instigated and set up by local councillor Ed Ruane and Coventry’s Independent Safeguarding Children Board to assess the case and put into place lessons learned from the handling.


In 2014, a case of serious child neglect emerged in Lancashire where a four year old was discovered living in complete squalor in a house with 20 uncaged ferrets and 14 dogs.

PC Lloyd Jones paid a visit to the flat to the home it the east of the county while he was investigating a missing dog case. When he arrived at the house, he discovered a filthy scene within. The house was covered in rubbish and animal excrement, with the dogs and ferrets running amok and two cages with dead birds inside. He also came across the young child on a mattress who required immediate medical aid and was rushed to the high dependency unit at the Royal Blackburn Hospital. The boy was in such poor condition that he needed a gastric tube to his stomach to be able to take food. He was also suffering from an infected open wound on his stomach. The court adjudged that the neglect had occurred over a period of two months.

The child and his mother cannot be named for legal reasons, but the 21-year-old parent was sentenced to two years in prison by a court for child neglect. In her legal defence, her lawyer described how the mother had been suffering from depression, trapped in a cycle of worsening conditions, and that she was left without support. However, the judge went on to describe the support she had received in the past, and proceeded to give her the sentence. The child was taken in by the police and is now being looked after properly by the authorities.

If you want to learn more about safeguarding with reference to child neglect, our training courses provide comprehensive and informational learning materials on the topic, adding important context to the above cases. You can find details on our courses here.

You can also check out our useful and informative downloadable resources, including this infographic on the signs of child abuse.