Physical neglect usually arises out of economic scarcity, or is accompanied by pervasive neglect. (Parents who don’t care about their child tend to ignore the child’s physical needs as well.) It generally involves a parent’s failure to provide their child with the proper A) Nutrition, B) Shelter, C) Clothing, D) Health care. What we’re really concerned about in physical neglect is not the physical absences, but the numerous detriments such conditions indirectly contribute to.
Pervasive hunger can make the most brilliant kids perform well below average. Lack of proper nutrition has been shown to have profound impact on cognition and intellectual functioning. (Georgieff & Rao, 2001; Pollitt et al., 1995; 1997) When children are going hungry, they can’t concentrate, so they end up doing worse in school. And as every parent or teacher knows, a hungry child makes for a cranky child, thus contributing to behavioral problems and leading to conflict with others. (Kaplan, et al., 2004) These problems in school can create friction between their teachers, inducing added conflict and stress.
The lack of proper shelter or living conditions does harm in much the same way. A child won’t be inherently harmed if they have to live out of their car for a few months by the act itself. The problem is that such a scenario greatly increases family stressors and anxiety for the child. Family stressors, as we’ve already discussed, raise the likelihood of conventional forms of abuse, (Connell et al., 2007) and put everyone on edge. When members of a family are stressed and on edge, their interactions with each other become severely strained, to say the least The environment is teeming with negative energy, and it makes a poor environment to grow up in.
I received first hand experience with this when I was younger. My own family lived out of a 30 foot long camping trailer for about 8 months after our old house sold and our new one was being built. We did this not out of necessity, but because my father is the very definition of frugal. He wanted to save on the rental of a house or apartment. In hind-sight, we should have put up the cash. It cost us more not to. Those 8 months nearly destroyed our family, and caused some lasting wounds. It also cost me two years of being teased at school for being “homeless.” (Kids generally don’t care enough to find out facts, just enough to find a little bit of gossip to taunt you with.) All in all, the 5 of us being forced to live through a Colorado winter in a cramped space like that, with a bunk for a bedroom and a living room 5 feet by 10 feet that doubled as a kitchen, raised family stressors so high I can’t even begin to describe it to you. You’d have to live it to understand. We had our problems before, but we became one of the most dysfunctional families in the county overnight.
Squeezing 5, 6, 7 people into a trailer or forcing families into living conditions that aren’t adequate for their needs raises environmental stressors to breaking point levels. Such conditions aggravate any problems a family was having before. It’s an incubator for dysfunctional families, something that for all intents and purposes is as harmful as any type of conventional abuse or even combinations of it. Of course, this translates over into other social problems at school, and can also lead to teasing, aggravating things even more.