Understanding child neglect

CFCA Paper No. 20 – April 2014

Introduction

Child neglect is one of the most commonly reported forms of maltreatment. However, it is also one of the most difficult to substantiate and respond to. Issues such as poverty, parent's gender (i.e., mothers and in particular, single mothers), family structure, ethnicity, and access to resources are inextricably tied to neglect and can all play an important role in how neglect is conceptualised. The way that families and childhood are perceived varies across social groups, communities, and cultures and that perception is key to any response to or understanding of neglect.

Neglect is reported to be under-researched compared to other forms of child maltreatment. A recent meta-analysis on prevalence of neglect found only 29 studies with a total of 119,061 participants for inclusion, compared to another on child sexual abuse that found 200 publications on a total of more than 400,000 participants (Stoltenborgh, Bakermans-Kranenburg, & Van IJzendoorn, 2013). Additionally, the authors noted that neglect studies were generally reported in conjunction with studies into other forms of maltreatment and seemed to be of secondary interest. However, this is to some extent understandable, given that neglect is frequently found to co-occur with other forms of child abuse (many maltreated children experience multi-type maltreatment; see Higgins & McCabe, 2001).