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Ask the Expert: I'm worried my neighbour is neglecting her children. What should I do?

Last year, the NSPCC helpline handled nearly 20,000 calls from adults worried about a child suffering neglect

Q: The children who live in the house next door always appear dirty and seem hungry and I know my neighbour leaves them on their own a lot, despite the oldest only being eight. I don't know her well and I don't want to get her into trouble, but I really do feel I shouldn't ignore this.

A: NSPCC helpline manager Sandra Robinson says: "Neglect is the ongoing failure to meet a child's basic needs and is the most common form of child abuse in the UK. Last year, the NSPCC helpline handled nearly 20,000 calls from adults worried about a child suffering neglect. On average, that's the equivalent of 55 contacts every day, which sadly means we often hear of reports such as the one you're describing.

"Adults regularly tell us of children being left home alone or unsupervised, going hungry or unwashed, living in poor conditions, having inadequate clothing, or being ignored or uncared for. Child neglect is the top reason why adults get in contact with us, and three-quarters of cases involving neglect reported to us last year were serious enough to be referred to children's services and the police for further investigation.

"That's why it's vital to contact the helpline with any concerns you have about your neighbour's children. Let us, the trained professionals, make the decision whether to report the case to the authorities. Your call or email could be one part of an important jigsaw. You can contact the NSPCC helpline on 0808 800 5000 or help@nspcc.org.uk seven days a week, and remain anonymous if you wish.

"Neglect can cause deep-rooted and lifelong physical and psychological harm for a child. At its worst, neglect can lead to a child suffering permanent disabilities, or prove fatal. It's also important to remember neglect doesn't stop because it's Christmas – the holidays can, in fact, magnify problems because children are cut off from the wider community and their support network.

"We received hundreds of calls over the 12 days of Christmas last year, so this year we're keen to shine a spotlight on the issue with our Light For Every Childhood Christmas Appeal.

"Our appeal, which includes Get Your Sparkle On to get people together wearing something sparkly, and donating £3 each, aims to raise vital funds for the NSPCC helpline. We want to make sure we can be there for every child who needs our help."

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