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Child Care in Practice Vol. 17, No. 2, April 2011, pp. 103Á113

Lest We Forget: Remembering the Consequences of Child Neglect A Clarion Call to ‘‘Feisty Advocates’’

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Dominic McSherry

It is widely acknowledged that, across the United Kingdom and the USA, childcare practitioners often struggle with cases of child neglect, because of the difficulties involved in attempting to define the problem at hand, and balancing these cases with others in the caseload that may appear more pressing, such as physical abuse. Consequently, in an attempt to refocus the lens of professional policy and practice, this article will profile a number of research studies that have highlighted the profound developmental deficits that neglect can cause, relative to other forms of child maltreatment, and a range of interventions that have proven to be effective with these types of cases. The article concludes with a discussion of the potential negative impact of the current financial crisis for neglected children. Introduction Social policy in the United States continually understates the consequences of child neglect when constructing legal and social interventions for neglected children. Instead, policy is driven by the more emotionally charged problems of child abuse (Gelles, 1999). Rose and Meezan (1996) found that foster care workers viewed neglect less seriously than Child Protection Service (CPS) workers, and that both of these groups rated neglecting behaviours as being less serious compared with laypersons from the community at large. It was argued that this difference may be explained by the perceived seriousness of child abuse compared with the less obvious harm of neglect. A similar picture has also emerged within the United Kingdom. Several commentators (Minty & Pattinson, 1994; Stevenson, 1996; Stone, 1998) have argued that social workers often underestimate the seriousness of neglect, in spite of the large Dr Dominic McSherry is Senior Research Fellow at Queen’s University, Belfast. Correspondence to: Dominic McSherry, Queen’s University, Institute of Child Care Research, 6 College Park, Belfast BT7 1LP, UK. Email: dominic.mcsherry@qub.ac.uk ISSN 1357-5279 print/1476-489X online/11/020103-11 # 2011 The Child Care in Practice Group DOI: 10.1080/13575279.2010.541426

104 D. McSherry

body of evidence that suggests that neglect may lead to major developmental deficits and may increase the risk of the child being injured or even killed. Minty and Pattinson (1994) pointed out that a significant number of child fatalities have been attributed to parental/caregiver neglect, and that professionals had failed to recognise the risk posed to these children, even in cases of severe neglect (see Department of Health, 1991). Research from the Republic of Ireland suggests that social workers are either ‘‘overwhelmed’’ by the enormity of problems presented by neglecting parents, or are ‘‘underwhelmed’’ to the extent where the behaviour of these neglecting parents becomes normalised (Buckley, 2002). The reasons for this ‘‘neglect of neglect’’ have recently been examined by McSherry (2007) and Dubowitz (2007), and appear to be reflective of a range of interrelated issues, such as the difficulties that tend to be associated with defining, substantiating, and prioritising child neglect. These issues, in turn, are related to a widespread deterministic perspective that neglect is an inevitable by-product of families living in poverty, and a tendency to see any positive dimension of a child neglect case as precluding the necessity for intervention, particularly in the context of ever increasing rate of referrals, and the subsequent growing pressure upon social service resources to meet this need (McSherry, Iwaniec, & Larkin, 2004). Given that there appears to be a general misunderstanding or underestimation of the consequences of child neglect by practitioners, both within the United States and the United Kingdom, this article will profile a...
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