Child neglect has now become the most common form of child abuse recorded in five states and territories. In one year alone 10,936 children were confirmed as neglected, and these are just the official cases with many more going unreported.
While any form of child abuse and neglect is traumatic and can lead to life-long problems, neglect is often incorrectly considered less damaging than physical abuse. Act for Kids Executive Director of Programs, Research and Education, Dr Katrina Lines, says this is a commonly held misperception.
Neglect is when a childs physical, social and emotional needs are not met. Its often not as visible and distressing to see as physical abuse, but it can have very serious impacts on a childs development, she said.
While people are aware children need nutritious food, a safe and hygienic home, and opportunities to play and develop physically, what many may not realise is that social and emotional needs are just as crucial to a childs development.
Dr Lines said things such as connecting through eye contact, talking in conversation, being listened to, being touched and cuddled, learning how to play and share with others, are all critical for a childs brain development.
If children miss out on these basics in childhood, its difficult to remedy later in life. Our brain pathways and connections grow with us, the older we get the less flexible and plastic they are. Its critical that childrens physical, social and emotional needs are met when theyre young and growing so their brain can develop normally, Dr Lines said.
These early childhood experiences also teach children valuable skills. They learn how to calm down when stressed or anxious, how to wait their turn and share, and how to communicate effectively.
Its often the simple things that make a real difference. Singing together builds connection, but children also develop language skills and rhythm, they connect with their breathing which can help them calm down in times of stress. Its actually good for all of us because it creates endorphins which make us feel good.
Just making time to play with kids, reading books together and singing, theyre the things we remember fondly as adults. Its sad to think that many kids miss out on these simple childhood pleasures they all deserve to experience, Dr Lines said.
This National Child Protection Week (1 7 Sept), lend your voice to raise awareness and bring some music and twinkles to the lives of abused and neglected children.
Visit twinkletwinkle.org to sing a lullaby for a child who has never heard one. If youre too shy to sing you can spread the word by sharing others songs or donate to help Act for Kids continue providing free therapy and support services to abused and neglected children, and families at risk.