The charity’s Keeping Children Safe report argues current legislation, passed in 1933, is out of date.
It claims that the legal definition, which covers neglect causing physical injury is too narrow. Action for Children wants to see the definition widened to take into account the long-term emotional harm that can also be the result of neglect.
Chief executive Dame Clare Tickell said: “Neglect is the most common form of child abuse affecting children in the UK, yet we have an outdated law that does not reflect what we now understand children need and what neglect actually is.
“The law leaves children unprotected and parents without support and unclear about their responsibilities until it’s too late.”
A survey of parents, undertaken as part of the report, found two-thirds believe current laws on parenting are confusing.
The charity wants ministers to consider drafting a new child neglect bill that gives greater clarity and guidance on what constitutes good parenting.
Flexible sentencing options for those convicted of child neglect, with a greater focus on parenting support and rehabilitation is also among the charity’s proposals.
However, the report acknowledges that courts need to “retain the ability to send people to prison for the most malicious, intentional neglect".
Read the full report here.