Poverty or Neglect? Understanding The Signs

SFE Safeguarding Education Adviser, Lucie Welch, has created a free resource for schools discussing the difference between “poverty” and “neglect” and how we can support children in each case.

The rising cost of living may be leaving many families concerned about financial strains, with the summer holidays potentially being an added source of pressure. 

In this resource, a “DSL Discussion,” we dive into the concepts of poverty and neglect, including the signs for teachers to look out for, and the steps you can take to help.  

We have also recreated this as a blog below, for easy reading and reference.

download the resource here

Our “DSL Discussions” range of resources was created for the SFE Safeguarding Subscription. Covering a range of subjects, they describe how you might raise a topic in your setting, give sample questions you can use in discussions and advice on what you can do to demonstrate good practice to support the children and families you work with.

What is poverty?   

Poverty is when a family lack the finances or resources to provide an adequate diet or appropriate living conditions.  

People tend to equate poverty to having limited or no money, but it is defined by being unable to provide a decent standard of living for oneself or their family. 

Around 29% of families across the UK live in poverty. 

What is neglect? 

Neglect is the persistent failure to meet a child’s basic needs and is the most common form of child abuse.  

Neglect can be wilful and intentional, but it can also be as a result of other circumstances which render a parent unable to provide what their child needs, for example parental drug or alcohol misuse or mental health issues.  

1 in 10 children in the UK have experienced neglect in their lifetime. 

Poverty Is a Risk Factor for Neglect, But Poverty Does Not Equate to Neglect… 

The occurrence of poverty on its own does not mean that a child is unsafe or at risk, unloved, or that a parent lacks the capacity to care for their child.  

Poverty can make it more challenging for parents to meet their child’s needs, but despite this they actively want to change their situation or provide for their children, but they do not have the means.  

But recent research has proved that increased financial and other pressures on family life will lead to the risk that more children will be subject to harm, abuse and neglect. 

Signs of Poverty & Neglect: 

  • Poor hygiene and cleanliness* 
  • Inappropriate uniform, shoes or clothing* 
  • Lack of food provided or money for food* 
  • Malnutrition* 
  • Missing school equipment or other required items* 
  • Poor or inappropriate living conditions* 
  • Negative impact on mental health and self-worth* 
  • Tiredness or inability to concentrate at school* 
  • Stealing or taking things to use, eat or sell* 
  • Children being left home alone* 

Signs of Poverty: 

  • Parents requesting support from school 
  • Children working jobs outside school 
  • Children concerned about parents and situation 

Signs of Neglect: 

  • No or limited access to health care 
  • Repeated absence from school 
  • Lack of parental involvement 

*Many of the signs are the same for both neglect and poverty and professional curiosity must be used to find out more about a situation so action can be taken.

Taking Action… 

Against Poverty: 

  • Support: Provide ‘extended’ services where possible- homework support, uniforms, free school meals or wrap around care. 
  • Signpost: There are organisations who can provide support for families who are struggling with the cost of living. Have resources available to share with parents. 
  • Teach: Ensure children are taught about money and how to manage as part of the curriculum.

Against Neglect: 

  • Refer: If you suspect a child is experiencing neglect you must refer to your local authority threshold guidance and speak to children’s social care. 
  • Train:  All staff must be trained to look out for the signs of neglect and know what to do if they identify children at risk. 
  • Teach: Children should be taught to identify the signs themselves and to speak up if they are not being treated correctly. 

Need more support with this topic?  

If you would like support with how to deal with concerns regarding poverty or neglect, please feel free to contact our safeguarding team at safeguarding@servicesforeducation.co.uk


Have you booked your safeguarding training for 2023/24 yet?

Services For Education provide a wide range of safeguarding training courses throughout the year. For September, we recommend the following:

About the Adviser

Lucie WelchLucie Welch – Adviser, Services For Education

Lucie Welch taught in primary schools for over 13 years, holding the roles of Assistant Head of School, Designated Safeguarding Lead, Designated Teacher for Looked After Children, Attendance Lead as well as many subject lead roles.

Through the role of DSL, Lucie has garnered huge experience and knowledge of safeguarding which she is passionate about sharing with schools both across Birmingham and nationwide. With a strong understanding of policies and procedures, as well as safeguarding in schools at a day-to-day operational level, Lucie can provide bespoke consultancy and training on a host of safeguarding related topics.

Lucie also leads on PSHE and RSE and has a focused interest in children's emotional health and wellbeing, understanding how trauma and adverse childhood experiences can impact children, as well as educating staff and pupils on Sexual Violence, Sexual Harassment and Harmful Sexual Behaviour in schools.

Lucie is also a part of our Health for Life team and helps deliver the Early Career Framework on behalf of the Best Practice Network.

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