What Are the Causes and Consequences of Child Neglect and Implications for Social Work Practice

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Child neglect according to McCoy & Keen (2009) is the most common form of child maltreatment. However, neglect of children has frequently gone unreported and has not been publicized or acknowledged as a child abuse (Stone & NSPCC, 1998). To some extent, it is recognizable why the different forms of violence against children have got more attention compared to child neglect. Abuse to the children often leaves visible scars and bruises, whereas neglect signs tend to be less visible. But neglect effects can be detrimental very much especially to the early brain development of children than sexual or sexual abuse (Crosson-Tower, 2010). The definition of neglect differs among different agencies, disciplines, countries and professional groups such as health care providers, court systems, and the child protective services. However, the definition of neglect shapes the responses since the objective of defining neglect is for child protection and to improve the children wellbeing, and not to blame the caregivers or the parents. The definitions help in the determination if a pattern of behavior or an incident qualifies as neglect, the safety of the child and its duration or seriousness.

Historically, it has been difficult to define neglect, and that has led to inconsistencies in research, practice and policies. With no consistent neglect definition, it is close to impossible to make comparisons of the research results. It is also this inconsistency that has led to variability in the manner in which cases of neglect are handled. The debate on neglect definition centers on the lack of consensus in addressing some of the questions highlighted by Scott et al (2014).
1. What are the associated minimum requirements with child caring?
2. What inaction or action by a caregiver or parent constitutes neglectful behavior?
3. Must the action or inaction of the caregiver or the parent be intentional?
4. What constitutes “inability or failure to provide” adequate clothing, food, protection and shelter?
5. What impact does the inaction or action have on the child’s well-being, safety and health?
6. Should “inability or failure” be included?
7. Is the inaction or action result of poverty instead of neglect?
In United Kingdom, Cawson & NSPCC (2000) defined neglect as a child abuse form which can cause damages that are life-long to the victims. Neglect is also the most common cause for subjecting children under child protection register or child protection plans in UK. A child is said to be neglected when the caregivers and the parents are unwilling or unable to satisfy the needs of the child (Stone & NSPCC, 1998). In the four nations of UK, the definitions of child neglect based on the guidance of the government are broadly similar. Cawson & NSPCC (2000) pointed out that according to Child protection guidance of England, child neglect us defined as the persistent failure to meet the basic psychological and physical needs of the child, likely to lead to the serious impairment of the health or development of the child. Similarly, Stone & NSPCC (1998) indicated that the Child Protection Committee (CPC) areas in Scotland use the formal neglect definition commonly used by the National Guidance for Child Protection in Scotland. There are many voluntary organizations  for children in UK such as NSPCC, Action for Children, Barnados, National Children’s Bureau whose definition of child neglect align with the states they operate or their organizations definitions.

Furthermore, Howe (2005) asserted that what is regarded neglect varies based on the development level and age of the child. This makes it difficult to sketch out a set of behaviors that are always considered neglect. For instance, leaving a young child for an hour unattended is considered neglect, but a teenager child is not. McCoy & Keen (2009) pointed out another issue in the definition of neglect whereby most definitions states that omissions in child care my results in “major harm” or “harm risk” to the child. These terms by law are not often defined leaving the local agencies of child care to interpret them. This results to inconsistency in responding to the challenged families in meeting their children’s needs.

Scott et al (2014) defined Child maltreatment as “Failure to act or any recent act on the part of the caregiver or parent, which leads to serious emotional or physical harm, death, exploitation or sexual abuse, or failure to act or an act which presents an imminent risk of a very serious harm.” Under this definition, a child means a person w.............


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