Chronic Neglect: Prediction and Prevention

Mersky, J.P., Topitzes, J., & Reynolds, A. J. (2009). Chronic neglect: Prediction and prevention. Protecting Children, 24, 67-77.

In 2006, more than 60% of verified child maltreatment victims in the United States experienced child neglect, exceeding the official rates of all other maltreatment types combined (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services [USDHHS], 2008). Despite its relatively high incidence, neglect remains one of the least studied forms of child maltreatment (Behl, Conyngham, & May, 2003; Lounds, Borkowski, & Whitman, 2006).

This disparity is disturbing because neglect often poses serious and persistent threats to child well-being. Among all types of maltreatment, neglect is associated with the largest number of child fatalities annually. In addition, neglected children are at risk for poor outcomes in multiple domains, including neurobiological development, physical and mental health, cognitive and educational performance, and social-emotional and behavioral functioning (Cicchetti & Valentino, 2006; Hildyard & Wolfe, 2002; Kendall- Tackett & Eckenrode, 1996; Kotch et al., 2008; Tyler, Allison, & Winsler, 2006).

Emerging evidence also suggests that the effects of child neglect are cumulative, meaning that the risk of unwanted consequences may rise in response to increased exposure to neglect (Bolger, Patterson, & Kupersmidt, 1998; Hildyard & Wolfe, 2002).

This is especially concerning because neglect is more likely than other types of maltreatment to manifest as a chronic pattern (DePanfilis & Zuravin, 1999; Fluke, Yuan, & Edwards, 1999). However, research into the processes that distinguish recurring and transitory forms of neglect is limited.

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