Chapter Summary and Learning Objectives
- Describe the definition and scope of child neglect, including problems inherent in measuring this form of abuse.
- Identify the various risk factors associated with child neglect.
- Summarize the consequences of child neglect, including both short- and long-term outcomes.
- Discuss the various intervention and prevention efforts that have been developed to address child neglect, including evidence of their effectiveness.
Child neglect is one of the most elusive forms of child maltreatment and, as a result, has received less attention than other forms. The vague nature of child neglect is evident
in the fact that a significant proportion of the research devoted to this topic has focused on definitional issues. At present, no single definition of child neglect is universally accepted. Although experts generally agree on conceptual definitions of child neglect (i.e., failure to provide for a child’s basic needs), little consensus exists regarding operational definitions.
Given these definitional complexities, the true incidence of child neglect is largely undetermined, as are the characteristics of child neglect victims. Child neglect is the most frequently reported form of child maltreatment, accounting for 61 percent to 77 percent of reported maltreatment cases. The majority of child neglect victims are under the age of 5, and the risk for neglect appears to decline as children become older. Children whose families are experiencing a variety of financial
stressors (e.g., low income or unemployment) are at higher risk than children in financially better-off families. For this form of child maltreatment, there appears to be little difference in risk between boys and girls. Studies that have examined the negative effects associated with child neglect have consistently shown it to be related to a variety of problems including social difficulties, intellectual deficits, and emotional
and behavioral problems.
Neglecting parents can be distinguished from nonneglecting parents by several characteristics. One consistent finding in families of neglect is that parent–child interactions are disturbed, and parents have increased levels of stress, with few social supports and limited integration into the community. Neglecting parents are also characterized by low educational achievement and often have become parents at a young age. Further research is needed to determine additional factors contributing
to child neglect, given that not all parents with the characteristics noted neglect
Few intervention and prevention strategies have been devised to address the unique aspects of child neglect, and as a result, research evaluating the effectiveness of interventions for victims of this form of maltreatment, in particular, is limited. Efforts to address child neglect primarily focus on parental competency programs that include home visitation, parent education, and parent support. A great deal of research has been conducted on home visitation programs, which often incorporate a multicomponent approach designed to include a variety of services for families. Such programs operate on the assumption that by enhancing parental support and parents’ knowledge about parenting and child development, they can improve family functioning, which will result in lower levels of child neglect. Although the effectiveness of home visitation programs has been debated, there is increasing evidence that such programs are generally
effective in meeting many of their goals. Another strategy in efforts to reduce or eliminate child neglect involves policy initiatives, such as safe-haven laws, which have the potential to significantly improve the lives of children.