Child Neglect

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Child Abuse & Neglect 26 (2002) 679 – 695

Child neglect: developmental issues and outcomes
Kathryn L. Hildyard, David A. Wolfe*
Department of Psychology, The University of Western Ontario, London, Ontario, N6A 5C2, Canada

Abstract Objective: This article highlights the manner in which child neglect, the most common form of maltreatment, affects children’s development. Method: The review is organized according to three developmental periods (i.e., infancy/preschool, school-aged and younger adolescents, and older adolescents and adults) and major developmental processes (cognitive, social-emotional, and behavioral). Although the focus is on specific and unique effects of various forms of child neglect, particular attention is paid to studies that allow comparisons of neglect and abuse that clarify their similarities and differences. Results: Past as well as very recent findings converge on the conclusion that child neglect can have severe, deleterious short- and long-term effects on children’s cognitive, socio-emotional, and behavioral development. Consistent with attachment and related theories, neglect occurring early in life is particularly detrimental to subsequent development. Moreover, neglect is associated with effects that are, in many areas, unique from physical abuse, especially throughout childhood and early adolescence. Relative to physically abused children, neglected children have more severe cognitive and academic deficits, social withdrawal and limited peer interactions, and internalizing (as opposed to externalizing) problems. Conclusions: The current review offers further support for the long-standing conclusion that child neglect poses a significant challenge to children’s development and well-being. Limitations with regard to the state of the knowledge are discussed and directions for future research are outlined. © 2002 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved. Keywords: Child neglect; Child abuse; Development; Consequences

Support for this article was provided by a doctoral fellowship from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (KH) and a Senior Research Fellowship from the Ontario Mental Health Foundation (DW). * Corresponding author. 0145-2134/02/$ – see front matter © 2002 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved. PII: S 0 1 4 5 - 2 1 3 4 ( 0 2 ) 0 0 3 4 1 - 1


K.L. Hildyard, D.A. Wolfe / Child Abuse & Neglect 26 (2002) 679 – 695

Introduction The “neglect of neglect” has been acknowledged for over two decades (Wolock & Horowitz, 1984), yet child neglect remains the poor cousin of child maltreatment research. Many individuals, including those working in related fields of childcare, family, and child development, are often surprised to learn that the consequences of child neglect are as severe as those associated with physical abuse, sexual abuse, and witnessing domestic violence, based on the limited findings available (Hart, Binggeli, & Brassard, 1998; Trickett & McBride-Chang, 1995). The significance of child neglect, however, should come as no surprise, given that a lack of parental care and nurturance— hallmarks of neglect—poses one of the greatest threats to children’s healthy growth and well-being (Rutter & Sroufe, 2000; Sameroff, 2000). It is self-evident that neglected children face a multitude of risk factors known to impair normal development (Schumacher, Slep, & Heyman, 2001). Chronic poverty, serious caregiving deficits, parental psychopathology, substance abuse, homelessness, family breakup, and poor prenatal and postnatal care are all associated with neglect (Pelton, 1994), and each of these risk factors has been shown independently to increase children’s vulnerability to psychopathology, especially in the absence of compensatory strengths and resources (Brooks-Gunn & Duncan, 1997; McCall & Groark, 2000). Child neglect continues to be the most commonly reported form of child maltreatment, affecting almost 30 children out of every 1000 in...
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