In this essay I would like to give a clear definition of the neglect of children and explain what goes on in families where children are neglected. I would like to explain the typologies of neglect and how these can impact on the child developmentally.
The most common form of child maltreatment is child neglect (Child Neglect: A Guide for Prevention, Assessment and Intervention. 2006). Neglect is very much complex in many ways but is paradoxically quite simple. Life can be pretty miserable for the child whose needs are not being met. The neglect can be so profound that they die because of accidents or starve to death (Daniel et al, (2011). Failure to provide a child’s basic physical health, nutrition, emotional nurturing and education is child neglect. In order for a child to develop it is necessary for the caregiver to provide physical, social and emotional warmth. In terms of research and policy, little attention has been paid to neglect and it has been challenged by recent research that neglect is not as serious as other forms of child maltreatment and the least understood (NSPCC, 2007). Defining neglect has not been straightforward as there are no clear, cross-cultural standards for bringing up a child adequately (Gaudin, 1999).
It is shown by research that neglect often co-exists with other forms of abuse and adversity (Daniel 2005; Claussen & Cicchetti 1991). “Working Together” (DfES, 2006Bb) defines neglect as:
‘The persistent failure to meet a child’s basic, physical and/or psychological needs, likely to result in the serious impairment of the child’s health or development. It may involve a parent or carer failing to provide adequate food, shelter or clothing, failing to protect a child from physical harm or danger, or the failure to ensure access to appropriate medical care or treatment. It may also include neglect of, or unresponsiveness to, a child’s basic emotional needs.’
In the last 10 years, child neglect has been the most frequently reported form of maltreatment (Moran, 2009). Up to the end of March 2010, 43.5% of children registered in England where on the register for neglect and this is rising by 1,000 children per year. These figures are to be treated with caution as a new method of collecting statistics has been bought in this year. 375,900 children are ‘in need’ at March 2010, which 39% were referred for the reasons of being abused or neglected (DfES, 2011). It is unsure as to how many children are affected in the UK due to neglect. There are still many who suffer neglect which is not recognised. Studies have suggested that up to 10% (1.5 million) of children in the UK have experienced neglect in some form (NSPCC, 2011).
Child neglect has numerous negative impacts developmentally. Neglected children are at risk of emotional withdrawal, anxiety symptoms, low self-esteem and delays in their cognitive and language development. Neglected children are often unpopular and bullied. They have problems in forming and maintaining close attachments. Academically, a child neglected have lower grades and to not attend school on a regular basis. Extreme forms of neglect can lead to failure to thrive, developmental delays and death. Neglect has been shown to be damaging to a child either in the short or long-term than other forms of maltreatment (Erickson & Egeland, 2002). Children born prematurely, with disabilities, children in care, adolescents, refuge children and children from black and ethnic minority are especially vulnerable to neglect (NSPCC, 2007).
The most common form to be subject to child protection or put on the child protection register in the UK, is neglect. Radford et al, (2011) interviewed 1,761 young adults aged between 18-24 years; 2,275 children aged 11-17 years and 2,160 parents of children aged under 11 for a major piece of research for the NSPCC. Based on the interviews of the 1,761 young adults aged between 18-24 years, 16% (one in 6), during their childhood where neglected at some point and 9% (one in 10 young adults) of the young adults were severely neglected. Based on the interviews with the 2,275 children aged between 11-17 years, 13.3% (one in 7) have been neglected at some point and 9.8% (one in 10 children) where severely neglected. Based on the interview with the 2,160 parents with the children under 11, 5% (one in 20) of children under 11 have been neglected at some point. 3.7% (one in 30) had been severely neglected (Child abuse and neglect in the UK today, 2011).
Horwath (2007) identified different categories of neglect as:
Medical neglect. Where the carer denies a child’s illness. This includes optical, dental, speech and language therapy.
Nutritional neglect. Not providing the adequate food for normal growth which can lead to a ‘failure to thrive’. Providing an unhealthy diet which can lead to obesity, which can also increase the risk of health problems in adulthood.
Emotional neglect. Having a hostile indifferent parental behaviour which damages the child self-esteem and diminishes their sense of belonging.
Educational neglect. Showing an interest in the child’s education and providing a stimulating environment. Making sure that any special educational needs are met.
Physical neglect. The state of the home. Lack of heating, furniture and bedding. This can include inadequate clothing, which will mark them differently from his peers resulting in bullying and isolation. This can also refer to the lack of safety, exposure to electric wiring and sockets.
Lack of supervision and guidance (Horwath 2007, p.27). Failing to provide guidance and supervision in ensuring the child is protected from harm and is physically safe.
It has been acknowledged that most parents with the support of their family and friends care for their children really well. Some parents do require extra support from services to help in caring for their child adequately. Depending on the complexity and seriousness of the families circumstances will depend how comprehensive the support the services will offer in ensuring that all their needs have been met (Child Neglect Practice Guidance, 2008). The causes of neglect are varied and there are studies to suggest that substance misuse and mental health problems, domestic violence, unemployment and poverty experience a variety of these factors which will increase the likelihood of neglect (NSPCC, 2007).
One of the most influential factors to child maltreatment could be related to the family dynamics. These factors help in dictating who or what is available or unavailable and constitutes the exact circumstance in which the children live. From the moment the child enters the house, the household will condition and shape the person in who they will become. Family dynamics include the age of the parents, parental relationships and the family living arrangements (Beahn, 2009).
The impact of child neglect is often compounded by other detrimental influences such as intrapersonal, an inter-personal/family and socio-ecological level. From a socio-ecological perspective, the current theory on maltreatment states that consideration should not only be taken from the parent’s role but also from environmental and societal role which help in contributing to the parent’s inability to provide the child’s basic needs (Erickson & Egeland, 2002). This model helps in identifying the shared responsibility amongst the communities and the society, which therefore helps in targeting interventions on a more constructive approach (Gershater- Molko & Lutzker, 1999).
At an intra-personal level, primarily focuses on the characteristics of the neglectful parent and focuses on the mother having the inability to plan, has difficulty managing money and have no confidence for the future. Mental health problems have also been linked with the inability to cope with the child’s needs (Minty, 2005). Substance misuse plays a crucial role in being able to manage parental responsibilities. While this level focuses on the mother, the role of the father has been unexplored in neglect and there is still not enough evidence to determine whether fathers neglect differently to mothers and how this will affect the children (NSPCC, 2007).
At an inter-personal/family level the majority of the families that are neglectful are either by lone parents or have a transient male (Stevenson, 1998). The increase of child neglect is often caused by abusive and unstable relationships. Children are often forced to witness abuse or live with domestic violence, which is damaging to the child (Radford & Hester, 2006). If a child is seeing an abusive relationship, it is the parents who are failing to protect their child from emotional harm. It has been shown that recent research on domestic violence has shown that supporting the non-abusive is good at child protection (NSPCC, 2007).
The factors to be looking for when considering looking at neglect from a socio-ecological perspective are social isolation and poverty. It is also important to take into consideration that a person’s fail to provide are not always considered as neglectful. Factors relating to the parents health such as domestic violence, mental health issues often contribute to neglect and these need to be taken into consideration when any intervention is for neglect is needed. Parents who are poor may not have the inability to provide the appropriate amount of food. It is important to identify the factors that may contribute to the inability to provide, for example mental health problems. If it becomes consistent that a family fails to obtain support or use the information of the services that is available to them, an intervention maybe required. Having an understanding of what may contribute to neglect can help in identifying the appropriate interventions that will help in addressing the child’s basic needs (Gelles, 1999).
Socio- economic factors will define the standards in which we live in, not only where we live but where we work and how stressful we become. Each family has different dynamics whether educationally and will have different employment skills. It has been concluded through research that families who have been identified as being neglectful and abusive have similar socio-economic characteristics to one another. Families that have lower employable skills, education levels and poor employment histories will affect in how the families live or how comfortably. Families will often have to live with one another due to financial strain and can sometimes lead to homelessness. These situations can become distressing cause anxiety and constant worry which will often lead to poor ability to deal with problems effectively on a daily basis (Beahn, 2009).
It is useful to practitioners if they know about the factors associated with neglect. The better the practitioner knows and recognizes the situations will help in situations where the parents may require more help. Studies have shown that mothers who neglect will often have low self-esteem (Cash & Wilke, 2003), mental health problems (Carter & Myers, 2007) and poor knowledge of parenting. Mothers will have less empathy for their children and poor connection (Daniel et al, 2011). Information about earlier stages of neglect is less available because most studies are taken when neglect is substantiated. There are some interesting pointers when the approach is taken from a different direction. A study was undertaken in the US while mothers were still in hospital, which measured any concerns the parent may have. Combs-Orme, Cain & Wilson, (2004) conducted a research study on 246 mothers of new born babies. The mothers completed a measure of concerns that they may have about their parenting. 1.4% had concerns that they might neglect and 25.7% were worried they may not provide enough care while, 8.2% were concerned the father may neglect the new born (cited in Daniel et al, 2011: 37). Practitioners are likely to experience parents from many different cultural variations and consideration must be taken when some parents are not prepared to speak to practitioners due to shame and stigma that may be attached to various concerns (Daniel et al, 2011).
Compared to other areas of child maltreatment, the effects of neglect is still very limited. What is known about the effects of neglect is often found from studies that are conjunction with other forms of abuse. Neglect can cause much distress and can bring poor outcomes for the child in the short and long term. The child may suffer mental health problems, low educational achievements and difficulties in forming attachments and relationships. The risk of neglect in childhood will have an impact in their parenting responsibilities later in their lives (NSPCC, 2007).
The child’s developmental of the brain can have an effect when they have suffered emotional neglect. Children grew up to be cognitively underachieving and socially withdrawn when their mothers were found to be emotionally unavailable and neglectful (Erickson & Egeland, 2002). A study of 25 children, aged between 23 to 50 months who are being raised in an orphanage in Romania showed that cognitively and their social functioning were seriously delayed (Kaler & Freeman, 1994).
The early theories and models that explained maltreatment focused on intra-individual factors. Other models proposed that the abuse of illicit drugs, alcohol and mental illness caused maltreatment. Later on there were theories added which included social, cultural and environmental factors. These multidimensional models include:
Social learning theory. This theory proposes that people are shaped through the environment in which they live in and through the learning processes in which they see. It also proposes that if the parent has suffered neglect and abuse they are more likely to maltreat their children to those who have not suffered abuse and neglect. The children who are most likely to be violent when they grow up are more than likely to have witnessed violence with their parents. The family is a place where much is learned and where roles are supposed to be. The home is where you are taught how to deal with different levels of stress and crises. The home is where much is learnt and in many in stances violence is often seen first inside the home (Smith & Fong, 2004).
Ecological theory. Garbarino (1977) and Belsky (1980) proposed that the ecological model explained the nature of the maltreatment. This model proposes that violence arises from the mismatch of the parent to the child to the neighbourhood. Parents who have poor coping skills and suffer a great deal of social stress may find it difficult in meeting the needs of their child. If the child has developmental problems such as a disability or social handicaps then the risk of abuse and violence is increased especially when parents are under stress (Garbarino, 1977).
Attachment theory. This theory proposes that a strong and emotional bond with the primary caregiver who is able to offer the security of feeling safe (Bowlby, 1973). Early attachments are important and have a clear pattern of the bonds that will appear during your lifetime. Adult relationships when you are older will feel secure attachments if you have formed strong secure attachments during childhood from your primary caregiver. If there has been an insecure, ambivalent and anxious attachment earlier on, their behaviour will be replicated during adulthood (Bowlby, 1973).
Some professionals who want an explanation for child maltreatment still go down the psychopathological route. These models soon gave way to a more multidimensional approach which considered the environment, social and cultural factors but still included psychopathology (National Research Council, 1993).
The definition of neglect is still comprehensive and still remains challenging to practice. Research shows that practitioners still have various understandings of neglect and is still unsure as to when a referral has to be made (Howarth, 2005). The practitioner can feel overwhelmed at the enormity of the neglectful families needs. The Munro review (2011) called for more social workers to be empowered in having the confidence to act within the best interest of the child. It is suggested that if parents are not able to meet the needs of the child, then it is the professionals who must take action in promoting to safeguard the well being of the child (NSPCC, 2012).
There are much early intervention programs such as family group counselling and parenting programs which help in enabling positive parenting. Most of the neglectful families will be experiencing multiple problems and have lack of resources, skills and knowledge. If parents are educated and given the proper and appropriate resources it could possibly help in the decrease of children being neglected (National Institute of Health, 2006).
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