Neglect occurs when a parent or other primary caretaker chooses not to fulfill their obligations to care for, provide for, or adequately supervise and monitor the activities of their child. Parental and caregiving obligations include the physical, emotional, and educational well-being of the child. Thus, neglect can also occur when the parent or caretaker does not seek adequate medical or dental care for the child. Another definition of neglect is when the parental figure does not provide sufficient food, clothing, or shelter.
Parents are also expected to provide for the emotional needs of the child. Thus, neglect can occur when parents abandon the child, or simply have no time to spend with the child, in essence leaving the child to raise himself. If the child is actually left without supervision, this certainly constitutes neglect as well.
The final feature of neglect includes educational neglect, which often occurs when one child is responsible for other children in the family. Shifting the responsibility of caring for younger children to another child in the family prevents the caregiving child from participating in age-appropriate activities for themselves, such as attending school. This is a relatively common situation that makes it difficult for the oldest—and perhaps all of the children—to attend school. Parental responsibility includes providing adequate guidance and supervision for the children to regularly attend school. Truancy is not only a problem for children, but may be part of the picture of neglect as well.
Effects of neglect
Consequences of neglect are generally cumulative, and often negatively affect the child's development. For example, poor nutrition has negative consequences on the child's physical and psychological development. If proper nutrients are not available at critical growth periods, the child's development will not follow the normal and usual pattern. Common physical and psychological reactions to neglect include stunted growth, chronic medical problems, inadequate bone and muscle growth, and lack of neurological development that negatively affects normal brain functioning and information processing. Processing problems may often make it difficult for children to understand directions, may negatively impact the child's ability to understand social relationships, or may make completion of some academic tasks impossible without assistance or intervention from others. Lack of adequate medical care may result in long-term health problems or impairments such as hearing loss from untreated ear infections.
Long-term mental health effects of neglect are inconsistent. Effects of neglect can range from chronic depression to difficulty with relationships; however, not all adults neglected as children will suffer from these results. Some individuals are more resilient than others and are able to move beyond the emotional neglect they may have experienced. Characteristics of resilient individuals include an optimistic or hopeful outlook on life, and feeling challenged rather than defeated by problems.
Factors associated with neglect
Although each family's situation is unique with regard to stressors and characteristics that might precipitate neglect, there are some general factors that have been associated with neglect of a child. These factors include characteristics of the parental figure, and socioeconomic status.
Parental figures who neglect may have been neglected or abused themselves. There is a tendency for parental figures that neglect their children to have low self-esteem, poor impulse control, and to experience anxiety or depression. Other factors associated with neglect often include inadequate information about child development, including age-appropriate expectations of what children may be able to do. The parents may also feel overwhelmed by parenting responsibilities, and feel negatively about the child's demands on them. Such parents may never have fully adopted the role of parent or the caregiving the parental role requires. Internal pressures often push the caregivers to take care of their own needs (perhaps inappropriately), while ignoring the needs of the child. Substance abuse is often associated with neglect, particularly for those parents who are more self-absorbed and focused on their needs rather than their child's. This characteristic is also consistent with the findings of other studies indicating that some neglectful parents have an inability to be empathic, or to understand the feelings and needs of others.
Although abuse may occur across all levels of income and education, neglect is more often associated with severe levels of poverty and lower educational level. The external stressors may feel more extreme in single parent families as well, leading to neglectful behavior. Even in families where the parent is attempting to provide for the children, absence due to multiple work demands may lead to a neglectful situation. Families that are disorganized and socially isolated are more likely to neglect the children in their care.
Unlike victims of abuse, there are few consistent characteristics associated with victims of neglect. Retrospective studies of adults neglected as children indicate that females are slightly less resilient to neglect than men.
The number of children nationwide who are harmed or endangered by neglect is greater than any type of abuse. Neglect is consistently reported in more than half of the substantiated reports of mistreatment handled by the authorities.
Prevention and treatment
Interventions are usually aimed at two levels: community prevention efforts and individual parenting skills. A community-based program that actually combines the two facets of intervention is the "Parents as Teachers" program, which is available through many local school districts throughout the nation and is free of charge. Benefits of the program include its accessibility—parents simply need to call for the free service—and the in-home interventions provided by the program. Although the program is not part of the social service network of agencies, the fact that workers go into the home replicates that aspect of caseworker interventions. The simple act of having a paraprofessional in one's home can reduce the likelihood of neglect. Specific interventions that further reduce the likelihood of neglect include focusing on the parent-child relationship, reviewing appropriate expectations for the child's behavior (based on child development principles), and teaching basic parenting skills.
Other treatment options are generally more formal, and may be initiated by a call from a mandated reporter with concerns about neglect. Mandated reporters include physicians, teachers, and counselors. Any of these professionals may make the initial call if neglect is suspected. Concerned individuals may also call social services to report suspected neglect. In these cases of forced treatment, parents may be less willing participants in treatment efforts aimed at behavioral change for themselves and their families. In other instances, the parent or child may already be in treatment, and the focus on reducing neglectful behaviors may be incorporated into the existing treatment relationship. Factors to focus on in formal treatment aimed at reducing the likelihood of neglect may include specific parenting skills, home visits to allow monitoring of the relationship, as well as other individual needs such as substance abuse treatment, or empathy skill training.
Treatment efforts for the child should include family counseling aimed at communication skills and appropriate expression of affection and emotion within the family. Assertiveness skills training may be helpful for older adolescents in asking for their perceived needs.
In extreme cases, this type of parenting style might encompass both rejecting-neglecting and neglectful parents.
Sometimes, the uninvolved parenting style is referred to as the "indifferent parenting style" due to its lack of emotional involvement and supervision of children. The parents are generally not involved in their child's life, but will provide basic needs for the child.
Sadly for their children, these types of parents are usually struggling to manage their own neglected childhoods, lacking personal, financial and supportive help for themselves, often the result of their own toxic parenting.
What are the Hallmarks of Uninvolved Parenting?
- The parent is both unresponsive and undemanding
- Usually psychologically unavailable to the child.
Dismissive parenting is in many ways similar to permissive parenting but the parent does not care much about the child.
These parents do as little for their children as they can get away with, and often go to great lengths to minimize their involvement.
toxic parenting There are many similarities here with Toxic Parenting - I would encourage you to seek professional help if your childhood has been harmed by an uninvolved parenting style.
The phrase toxic parent was coined to describe parents whose own negative behaviour grossly inflicts emotional damage which contaminates their children's sense of self.
This means parents who abuse their children verbally, physically and/or sexually, as well as parents who are inadequate or ignore their children's emotional needs.
Sometimes these patterns are so established they continue into adulthood, and often are either not recognised or addressed.
There are some toxic parents whose consistently negative patterns of parenting leave a legacy of guilt and shame within their children, and worse still there are parents whose outright cruelty would be considered illegal if exhibited toward animals, let alone their own children.
Development of the Child:
- The parents' needs and wants are always first priority, so that the lack of a good, loving relationship with the child has a significant negative impact on the child's psychosocial development.
- Most uninvolved parents are unable to encourage, teach or enable their children. They are often indifferent in their behaviour toward their children and lack the knowledge to meet their children's even basic needs.
- As the parents themselves are often experiencing financial, emotional and social stress, the impact on their children can be devastating.
- Social isolation and lack of friendship and support from relatives often leaves the children suffering from loneliness, fear and anxiety.
- Often uninvolved and neglectful parents are heavily involved in addictive behaviours, leaving the children to act as their parents caregivers. This creates its own set of problems for the children's future development.
Causes of Neglect
Effective intervention to prevent or remedy child neglect requires an understanding of the causes. However, specification of the causes of neglect is hampered by the limited research on child neglect. Most studies of child maltreatment include both neglectful and abusive families and fail to differentiate between the groups, thus making it impossible to identify results specifically related to neglect. The numbers of studies that focus specifically on child neglect are few in comparison to studies on other types of maltreatment. Studies are most often based on small, selected samples of reported and verified neglect, composed almost exclusively of very low-income families. For these reasons, the information about causes of neglect is limited and must be considered as only suggested by the existing research.
Nevertheless, it is clear from existing studies and from the experience of practitioners that there is no single cause of the inadequate parenting we term child neglect. Thus, understanding the causality of child neglect requires that it be viewed from a broad ecological-systems perspective. Building on the previous work of child development experts, Urie Bronfenbrenner, James Garbarino, and others, Belsksy has proposed that the causes of child maltreatment be considered in such an ecological framework. Belsky and Vondra have proposed that the determinants of adequate parenting arise from three sources:
- parents' own developmental history and resultant personal psychological resources,
- characteristics of the family and child, and
- contextual sources of stress and support.
Belsky and Vondra suggest that these factors interact to influence parenting as illustrated in Figure 1. The model illustrates that the sources of influence on parenting are interactive and often reciprocal. The developmental experiences of parents influence their personality and psychological resources, which directly influence both their parenting attitudes and behavior and their ability to develop supportive relationships with others. Parenting behavior influences the child's personality and behavior, which reciprocally influences parents' response to the child. The social context of the parent-child relationship, which includes the marital relationship, social network supports, and work-related factors, is highly influential on parenting. The model provides an organizing framework for examining the contributing causes of neglect suggested by the existing research.
Parents' Developmental History and Personality Factors
The ability of a parent to provide adequate care for a child depends partly on his/her emotional maturity, coping skills, knowledge about children, mental capacity, and parenting skills.
Belsky and Vondra review evidence from numerous studies that provide support for the conclusion that "at least under certain stressful conditions, developmental history influences psychological well-being, which in turn affects parental functioning and, as a result, child development."
These authors cite, among others, the Berkeley Growth Study, which provided data to support the linkages between personality, parenting, and then to child development. Growing up in unstable, hostile, nonnurturing homes led to unstable personalities when the children became adults, which led to stressful marriages and abusive parenting practices with their own children. Belsky and Vondra conclude from their review of relevant research that parental personality is the most influential factor on parenting because the personal psychological resources of the individual are also influential in determining the marital partner, the quality of the marital relationship, and the amount of social support one receives.
Child development researchers have used attachment theory to shed light on the personality development of abusive and neglectful mothers. Egeland and colleagues have concluded from their longitudinal study of high-risk mothers and children that the mothers' lack of secure psychological attachment and psychological immaturity result from inadequate care received as children. They found that regardless of level of stress or the availability of emotional supports for parenting, the emotional stability of the mother was the most significant predictor of maltreatment. Mothers who were no longer maltreating their children at a 6-year followup were "more outgoing, more mature and less reactive to their feelings, more realistic in problem solving" than those who continued to neglect and abuse. Others have also concluded that anxious or insecure emotional attachment between children and their parents results from interactions with parents who are physically or emotionally inaccessible, unresponsive, or inappropriately responsive to their children. The conclusion of these studies is that it is not so much the inadequate or abusive nurturing experienced as children, but the unacknowledged deprivations and unresolved feelings around these early experiences that leave the parents unable to offer their children the consistent nurturing needed for the development of secure psychological attachments.
A cycle of neglect is suggested in numerous studies. In Egeland et al.'s longitudinal study of maltreatment, only two out of the eight mothers who had been physically neglected as children were providing adequate care for their children. For the 35 mothers who had grown up in emotionally supportive homes, 20 were providing adequate care for their children; only 1 was maltreating her child. Results of a study by Main and Goldwyn of 30 middle class women, not known to be abusive or neglectful, indicated that a mother's rejection by her own parents in childhood was strongly related to her own infant's avoidance of her following brief separations. Over 56 percent of the 46 neglectful mothers in Polansky's study felt unwanted as children, and 41 percent had experienced some long-term out-of-home care as a child. Nevertheless, the direct cause-effect relationship between parental history of neglect and subsequent neglect of children is not clearly established by the research. Most of the studies cited above are based on high risk or clinical samples or retrospective studies of identified neglectful parents who are not representative of the population of neglect victims.
Indeed, the indication is that there are important mediating factors in the transmission of neglect from one generation to the next. Victims of neglect who do not repeat the cycle have fewer stressful life events; stronger, more stable and supportive relationships with husbands or boyfriends; physically healthier babies; and fewer ambivalent feelings about their child's birth. They are also less likely to have been maltreated by both parents and more apt to have reported a supportive relationship with one parent or with another adult. These mediating factors provide critical indicators for interventions to improve parenting potential.
Polansky and colleagues identified distinguishing psychological characteristics of neglectful mothers, first among poor whites in rural areas of the South, then among poor whites in Philadelphia. From the research with rural, Appalachian mothers, Polansky et al. identified five distinct types of neglectful mothers:
- impulse-ridden mothers,
- apathetic-futile mothers,
- mothers suffering from reactive depression,
- mentally retarded mothers, and
- psychotic mothers.
The subsequent study in Philadelphia confirmed the first two classifications of neglectful mothers and identified character disorders, rather than neuroses or psychoses, as the predominant psychiatric diagnosis of neglectful mothers. Polansky and colleagues described the characteristic "modal personality" for neglectful mothers as:
"Less able to love, less capable of working productively, less open about feelings, more prone to living planlessly and impulsively, but also susceptible to psychological symptoms and to phases of passive inactivity and numb fatalism."
Polansky et al. referred to the personalities of neglectful parents as "infantile or narcissistic" to reflect their markedly immature personality development resulting from early emotional deprivation. Many neglectful mothers are indeed psychologically immature and childlike in their inabilities to consider the needs of others, postpone gratification of basic impulses, and to invest themselves emotionally in another person. Polansky and colleagues found impulsivity to be the personality characteristic that was most highly correlated with neglect among the low-income white mothers studied.
This characteristic of neglectful mothers is corroborated by Friedrich, Tyler, and Clark's study of the personality characteristics of low-income, abusive, neglectful, and nonmaltreating control mothers. The authors found that the neglectful mothers, when compared with the other two groups on standard psychological measures, were the most pathological of the three groups and were characterized as "the most hostile, most impulsive, under most stress, and the least socialized." The neglectful mothers as a group were judged to be "more dysfunctional than the abusive mothers, less socialized, more angry, more impulsive, more easily aroused (by infant cries) and have greater difficulty habituating to stressful and nonstressful stimuli."
Neglecting parents also score significantly higher on the rigidity, loneliness, unhappiness, and the negative concept of self and child dimensions of Milner's Child Abuse Potential Inventory.
Although not consistently supported by research, clinical depression has also been associated with mothers who neglect. Studies of depressed women by psychiatric researchers have consistently found that depressed mothers are more likely than nondepressed mothers to be hostile, rejecting, and indifferent toward their children and to be neglectful especially with respect to feeding and supervision.
Evidence for the association of depression and neglect from studies of neglect is mixed. Polansky's descriptions of neglectful mothers in Appalachia paint a picture of depressed women. But only two controlled studies of neglectful mothers have specifically examined the relationship between depression and neglect. One study did not find a significant difference between small samples of neglectful, abusive, and normal mothers on a measure of psychopathology that included depression.
Zuravin's more recent study of neglecting and nonneglecting AFDC mothers did find a significant relationship between depression and neglect. Results of a controlled study of neglectful families currently in progress adds further support for the relationship between depression and neglect. Scores on a standardized measure of depression indicated that 60 percent of neglectful mothers versus only 33 percent of a comparison group of low-income nonneglecting mothers had a "clinically significant" problem with depression. Further research is needed to firmly establish the relationship of clinical depression and neglect, but such a diagnosis should be considered when assessing child neglect and appropriate clinical treatment offered if indicated.
Poor Social Skills
As Polansky et al. suggest, neglectful parents are typically not only deficient in their parenting skills, but have pervasive deficiencies in coping skills in many areas of living. The researchers' initial studies of neglectful mothers in Appalachia revealed that deficiencies in social skills and poor self-esteem resulted in neglectful mothers selecting equally ineffectual, unsuccessful male partners, who only served to confirm and compound their deficiencies. A subsequent study, which included neglectful fathers, revealed deficiencies in social participation and in their abilities to invest themselves emotionally in another person and in productive work.
In Egeland et al.'s longitudinal mother-child study, the existence of an intact, long-term, stable relationship with a husband or boyfriend was found to be the critical factor distinguishing mothers who discontinued maltreating their children from those who continued to maltreat. Belsky has suggested that the relationship between mother and spouse or boyfriend is the most critical supportive linkage for parents. The majority of neglectful mothers lack this critical support.
Neglectful mothers also have significant deficiencies in their social-communication and problem-solving skills. Polansky has characterized neglectful mothers as "verbally inaccessible." They lack the ability to express their own feelings in words, and therefore are not good candidates for traditional psychotherapy. He explains that they are psychologically detached or "split off" from their own feelings, and thus, are unable to recognize feelings and put them into words.
Neglectful parents have also been found to lack knowledge of and empathy for children's age-appropriate needs. They have more unrealistic and more negative expectations of their children than nonneglecting parents.
Abuse of alcohol or drugs is often present in cases of child neglect. Recent reports from urban CPS agencies indicate that substance abuse is a factor in a growing percentage of child neglect cases. Estimates range from a low of less than 24 percent to 80 to 90 percent of all child maltreatment reports. An earlier study found that 52 percent of the children removed from their homes for severe child abuse or neglect had at least one parent with a history of alcoholism. A study of women served in a Chicago alcoholism treatment program reported that 65 to 75 percent of the women were neglectful toward their children. The epidemic of cocaine addiction in urban inner-city areas has resulted in large increases in the numbers of neglect reports. The alarming increase of cocaine-affected infants has placed large burdens on the already overtaxed child welfare system. In spite of these associations, there is yet insufficient data to conclude that substance abuse causes neglect, but it is an increasingly significant contributing factor.
Characteristics of Children and Family System Factors
Research suggests that certain factors in family composition, size, and patterns of interaction contribute to child neglect. Even some characteristics of children may contribute to neglectful parenting.
Studies have not identified unique characteristics of neglected children that contribute to neglect. However, Crittenden's studies of parent-child interactions in abusive and neglectful families suggest that the children in neglectful families develop behavior patterns as a result of the interactions that make them more likely to experience further neglect. As a result of the mother's inattention, the neglected child often develops patterns of either extremely passive, withdrawing behavior or random, undisciplined activity. Both of these patterns are likely to result in further inattention and distancing on the part of the child's neglectful parent. Studies have not clearly established the relationship between handicapped children and neglect. However, Belsky and Vondra cite numerous studies that support the association of prematurity, "difficult" temperament, and mentally handicapped children with tendencies of their parents to be less responsive, less attentive to their needs. Younger children are more vulnerable to serious injury from neglect, but when educational neglect is included, older children are more often neglected.
Most neglectful families are single-parent families. The absence of the father in the majority of neglectful families means lower income and less tangible resources to provide for children's needs. Polansky, Chalmers, Buttenweiser, and Williams found that neglectful families with fathers present in the household had significantly higher income and provided better physical care than the single-parent families, but not better emotional/cognitive care. The physical absence or emotional disengagement of the father has been identified as contributing to deprived parenting in families of failure to thrive infants. Beyond these studies, little research attention has been focused on fathers or adult males in neglectful families.
Chronic neglectful families tend to be large families with fewer resources to meet basic needs than other families. Numerous studies have discovered that neglectful families on the average have more children than nonneglecting families. Studies of neglectful families by Polansky in Philadelphia and in Georgia found that neglectful families averaged 3.5 or more children, compared to significantly fewer children in similarly situated (low socioeconomic status [SES]) nonneglecting control families. Similar patterns of larger than average number of children in neglectful families were discovered by Giovannoni and Billingsley and by Wolock and Horowitz. The Study of National Incidence and Prevalence of Child Abuse and Neglect reported that the estimated rate of neglect among families with four or more children was almost double the rate among families with three or fewer children.
Not Counting Women and Children: Neglected Stories from the Bible
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