Childhood Neglect - pg. 10

Contextual Sources of Stress and Support

Neglectful families do not exist in a vacuum. The availability of formal and informal supports for parenting from outside the family system are critical determinants of the adequacy of parenting. Schools, churches, work settings, neighborhoods, and communities can supplement parents' resources for providing adequate care for children. On the other hand, these systems can produce additional demands and stressors, which make parenting more difficult.

Unemployment, which causes psychological and economic stress, is frequent in neglectful families. Neglectful families are less likely to be involved in church or other formal organizations that might be sources of tangible or psychological support. Neglectful families tend to live in impoverished neighborhoods and view their neighborhoods as less helpful and less supportive than do non-neglectful parents. Chronically neglecting families are viewed as deviant, even by their similarly impoverished neighbors, who avoid social contacts with them.

Informal Support Systems

Most parents must rely at times on supportive relationships with spouses, other relatives, neighbors, and friends to cope with demanding parenting tasks, especially in times of illness, loss of income, or other life crises. The social networks of neglectful mothers tend to be dominated by relatives who are critical, rather than supportive. Interactions with relatives may be frequent, but not very helpful. Because neglectful parents often lack the necessary social skills to maintain relationships, already weak linkages tend to break down, leaving the parents isolated and lonely.


The coping abilities of neglectful families are severely taxed by stressful life circumstances. A high proportion of reported neglectful families are dependent upon public assistance for income, and they have the lowest income and the fewest material resources.

People of color are over-represented in neglectful families. However, because of the higher incidence of poverty among Native Americans, Hispanics, and African-Americans, this over-representing seems to disappear when socioeconomic status is held constant. The ethnic and cultural differences in child maltreatment are small or non-existent when families have adequate economic and social resources.


Poverty is a significant confounding factor in child neglect. Although most impoverished families manage to provide strong, nurturing care for their children, the association of child neglect with poverty is clearly supported by many studies. Families receiving Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) are often reported for neglect. Even among impoverished families, neglectful families are the poorest of the poor, often lacking adequate housing, health care, and child care.


Child neglect can have devastating effects on the intellectual, physical, social, and psychological development of children. Numerous studies have documented significant developmental problems in children who have experienced inadequate, neglectful parenting. child development researchers have accumulated substantial evidence that neglected and abused infants and toddlers fail to develop secure attachments with their neglecting and/or abusive primary care providers. Because of the hostile, rejecting, inattentive, or inconsistent attention to the needs these very young children receive, they develop anxious, insecure, or disorganized/disoriented attachments with their primary care providers. This lack of secure attachment relationship then hinders the infant's or toddler's ability to explore his/her environment and develop feelings of competence.

Neglected children appear to be more generally passive and socially withdrawn in their interactions with peers, whereas abused children are more aggressive and active. This may be due to neglected children's behavior being learned from the less active, socially withdrawn behavior that they observe modeled by their parents. Similarly, the abused children learn to imitate the more aggressive behavior of their parents.

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