The Effects of Early Neglect: Addressing the Emotional Needs of Abandoned Children

By Josephine Dadeboe, WFCF Blog Guest Author on Jul 30, 2019

In various societies, the effects of neglect in the early stages of a child’s life are often overlooked. The consequences of neglect in the future could cause potential harm to the physical and emotional well-being of the neglected child as they grow older. Every child who has ever been neglected or abandoned has their own way of handling their traumatic experience.

In the past, there have been several studies conducted to take a look at the impact of different types of neglect on children’s development. One of the recent studies compared children ages 3-10 years old, with a history of familial neglect (USN), children with a history of institutional rearing (IA), and children without a history of neglect (Spratt et al., 2012). After the comparison with the children that were not neglected, results showed that the children with a history of USN and IA showed lower cognitive and language scores and more behavioral problems. Most common across the USN group were both internalizing and externalizing behavior problems. Externalizing behavior problems predicted parenting stress. When comparing the two neglect groups, shorter time spent in a stable environment, lower scores on language skills, and the presence of externalizing behavior predicted lower IQ. While higher IQ could be predicted by language scores and an absence of externalizing behavior problems.

The Emotional Needs of Abandoned Children

The Effects of Early Neglect: Addressing the Emotional Needs of Abandoned Children

Since early childhood is a pretty vulnerable time for children to develop cognitive, language, and emotional skills, the presence of neglect can cause catastrophic problems in a child’s life. According to Weir, the problems that stem from children being neglected include poor impulse control, social withdrawal, having problems coping and regulating their emotions, having low self-esteem issues, having pathological behaviors such as tics and tantrums, stealing and self-punishment, poor intellectual functioning and low academic achievement. These are just some of the problems that are present when children get abandoned or neglected.

Even though some children have long-lasting effects from being neglected, there are other children who are able to recover quickly from the trauma. With that being said, the emotional needs of the children still suffer because it is very difficult for a child’s brain to fully absorb and understand the enormity of abandonment (“How To Overcome Abandonment Issues From Childhood”). The abandoned child is left questioning their self-worth, has difficulty trusting others, and struggles with the feelings of guilt and shame.

Neglect in Developed Countries vs. Developing Countries

Although the issue of neglect is not as present in the U.S. as it is in developing countries, the topic is still a very huge concern nationwide. According to Spratt, neglect is the most prevalent form of maltreatment and is associated with negative social, behavioral, and cognitive consequences. In 2010, neglect in the U.S. accounted for 78% of all child maltreatment cases nationwide, far more than physical abuse (17%), sexual abuse (9%), and psychological abuse combined (“Center on the Developing Child”). Some of the reasons for the neglect among children in the U.S. were due to low-stimulation environments, inconsistent parenting (lack of rules, failure to monitor kids, inconsistent punishment and rewards), children receiving lower scores on their intelligence and language tests (Spratt et al., 2012). The children also showed development delays in IQ, language, social emotional functioning, and impaired attachment.

In addition to the physical and emotional neglect in the U.S., the effects of neglect among children can take place in developing countries where there is a lack of consistent caregivers, crowded conditions and abandoned children not having their physical, social, and emotional needs met. In Romania, after the Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu was overthrown, there were 170,000 children who were being raised in Romania’s impoverished institutions (Weir, 2014). Later in 2000, a group of researchers from the Bucharest project assessed 136 children; they assigned half of the children to move into Romanian foster families and had the other half remain in the Romanian institutions.

From their study, the researchers found that the children who were neglected and lived in the institutions had many problems. The children had delays in cognitive function, motor development, language, shortages in socio-emotional behaviors, experienced psychiatric disorders and they showed changes in the patterns of the electrical activity in their brains (Weir, 2014). For the children that were moved into foster families, they showed improvement in language, IQ, social-emotional behaviors and they were able to form responsive relationships to their caregivers.

Non-Profit Organizations for Neglected Children

For more than 15 years, the World Forgotten Children Foundation (WFCF) has supported and partnered with many organizations worldwide to help tend to the emotional and physical needs of abandoned and neglected children.

Organizations such as:

Under the Same Sun

Under the Same Sun is a non-profit organization in Tanzania that promotes the well-being of people with albinism through education and advocacy.

International China Concern (ICC)

International China Concern is a non-profit organization that helps children with disabilities who are abandoned and left in desperate conditions.


Spratt, E. G., Friedenberg, S. L., Swenson, C. C., Larosa, A., De Bellis, M. D., Macias, M. M., Brady, K. T. (2012, February 01). The Effects of Early Neglect on Cognitive, Language, and Behavioral Functioning in Childhood. Retrieved from

Center on the Developing Child: Harvard University. (n.d.). Neglect. Retrieved from

Weir, K. (2014, June). The lasting impact of neglect. Retrieved from

How To Overcome Abandonment Issues From Childhood. (n.d.). Retrieved May 31, 2019, from

About Us – International China Concern. (n.d.). Retrieved May 31, 2019, from

About Us | Under the Same Sun. (n.d.). Retrieved May 31, 2019, from

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