When people think about child maltreatment, they often think of it in terms of physical and sexual abuse. In reality, these two categories constitute only a quarter of maltreatment while incidents of neglect make up three quarters of maltreatment. Despite being the overwhelming reason for child maltreatment, neglect has not received the attention and focus necessary for effective identification, prevention, and treatment.

Let’s begin with identification. Federal law defines neglect as any recent act or failure to act on the part of the parent which results in harm to the child or an imminent risk of serious harm. State laws commonly define neglect as the failure of a parent/caretaker to provide basics such as food, clothing, medical care, and supervision to the degree that the child’s health, safety, and well-being are threatened with harm. Research shows that the consequences of neglect may be even more serious than the consequences of abuse. They include impaired brain development that can result in impaired intellectual and cognitive development, deficient emotional and psychological development, and problems with social and behavioral development.

Here are three family factors that can impact neglect:

  1. Poverty: Families living in poverty are 40 times more likely to be referred to the child welfare system than higher-income families
  2. Parental substance abuse: this factor is more closely related to neglect than other forms of maltreatment due to the parent’s impaired reason, failure to keep the child safe, and not meeting the child’s basic needs.
  3. Domestic violence: the non-offending parent is sometimes charged with the neglect of “failure to protect” and thus is in need of safety and resources to meet the children’s needs

This overview of neglect is summarized from a Child Welfare Information Gateway bulletin available here:

A new book, Tackling Child Neglect, edited by my friend and colleague Ruth Gardner in London, England, greatly contributes to our understanding of neglect. The book contains a broad review of the literature, the most recent research, and best practice in addressing neglect. Especially compelling are the chapters on best practice that include a discussion of the following interventions:

  • Triple P (Positive Parenting Program)
  • Incredible Years
  • Nurse-Family Partnership
  • Family Connections
  • Parents as Teachers
  • SafeCare
  • Video Interaction Guidance

Family Connections, SafeCare, and Video Interaction Guidance explicitly focus on neglect. Families participating in a SafeCare program in England that was implemented through the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) were successful in reducing the need for legal intervention for neglect. Even families that did not complete the program had positive outcomes.

Video Interaction Guidance engages parents in a change process through video showing the parent interacting well with the child. Then, the practitioner and parent discuss how to build on that interaction to create many more successful interactions with the child. Although initially reluctant to participate, parents quickly learn to appreciate the immediate feedback of the video and the motivation it provides to improve parenting skills.

The book Tackling Child Neglect is available through Amazon.


Posted by Priscilla Martens

NFPN Executive Director

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