Practitioners working with children aged 13-18 years may observe some of the key features described in the previous section. Getting help for the child and family as early as possible gives the best chance of a good outcome. Neglect and emotional abuse are often not recognised in teenagers and even where they are they may not be taken seriously by professionals. Not much is known about their personal experiences, as there is a lack of research which identifies the feelings, or experiences of this population. Many of the behaviours exhibited by emotionally abused or neglected teenagers may be interpreted by others as a lifestyle choice or ‘acting out’ when they may in fact be an indicator of neglect or emotional abuse. Consequently their conduct may lead them to enter the juvenile justice system rather than the child protection system. A better understanding of teenage neglect and emotional abuse may enable teenagers to access appropriate and timely help.
• All practitioners coming into contact with teenagers who exhibit the behaviours and issues above must actively consider neglect or emotional maltreatment, rather than simply addressing the problems they present, such as alcohol use.
• Remember, teenagers who have experienced neglect or emotional abuse may be particularly vulnerable to other forms of victimisation; therefore appropriate action should be taken.
• A sensitive exploration of teenagers’ experiences may help professionals understand their situation, and allow the teenagers to access appropriate support themselves.
• Hospital emergency departments and mental health providers need to be particularly aware that teenagers, especially the victims of violence, may be experiencing neglect or emotional maltreatment.
While early recognition and intervention are vital, it is never too late to help a child or teenager. If concerns about possible neglect or emotional abuse arise it is important you take action as soon as possible regardless of the age of the teenager.
If you have a concern you can call the police, social services or the NSPCC (0808 800 5000). And remember that children can contact ChildLine 24/7 (0800 1111; childline.org.uk).