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4. Effective practice when children are affected by neglect

  • Neglect is one of the most common concerns in children and families practice. It includes the failure to provide appropriate stimulation, care and supervision. It is more likely to occur where there are issues of parental substance misuse, domestic violence and mental health issues and in the most complex cases these issues may co-exist.
  • Long-term neglect has a marked negative impact on children’s welfare. While neglect may relate to specific or periodic incidents, it is most likely to be care which is substandard over a prolonged period of time and which has a profound effect on children’s physical, psychological and emotional development. Crucially long-term neglect, especially from a young age, is likely to undermine those very factors which can support a child’s resilience.
  • Professionals do not identify neglect as well as they might. Referrals regarding neglect are often given a lower priority than referrals concerning physical, sexual or emotional abuse.
  • What constitutes neglectful parenting is not value or culture free. Practitioners are tasked with distinguishing between different cultural practices of caring or care givers who are struggling to provide for their children due to material deprivation and neglectful parenting. In doing so they need to reflect on their own cultural and value assumptions about care giving.
  • Early identification and response to neglect will be the most effective response, but will not always be feasible. Where early intervention has not been successful, targeted multi-agency intervention is needed which avoids a stop-start response to intervention. In cases of severe neglect, thorough assessment of whether a child’s needs can be met within the home environment needs to be undertaken. Such assessment should include consideration of cumulative concerns, family history, parental response to professional intervention and observation of carer-child interaction.

Thoburn et al, 2000; Horwath, 2007; Brandon et al, 2008; Daniel et al, forthcoming