Childhood Neglect - pg. 11

Effects of Neglect on Children

Infants and Toddlers

Limited research evidence from studies of small samples of neglected infants and toddlers reveals that children who are victims of physical and emotional neglect suffer severe and continuing problems in functioning. Studies have shown behavior that indicate infants' lack of secure psychological attachment to their mothers begin to manifest itself at 12 months of age and gets progressively more prevalent through the preschool years. Two-year-olds demonstrated significant deficits in coping skills, more frustration, anger, and non-compliance when compared to non-neglected children in control groups. Neglected preschool children also manifested lower self-esteem, poorer control over impulses, and expressed less positive and more negative affect than the non-maltreated children. When placed in an experimental Barrier-Box situation, where desirable toys were placed in a locked Plexiglas box that prevented access to the toys, the neglected children were the least creative in seeking solutions to the dilemma. They were distractible and hyperactive, reluctant to seek help, and showed the most negative and least positive affect of the children. They were also the least persistent in problem solving.

At 42 months of age, physically neglected children lacked persistence and enthusiasm, and were negative and non-compliant in response to their mothers' efforts to teach them simple tasks. In a preschool classroom, these children were seen as more dependent and less able to control impulses than the non-maltreated children. Children whose parents were emotionally neglectful manifested sharp declines on appropriate indicators of development from infancy through the toddler period.

Kindergarten and Early School

As neglected children grow older, developmental deficits are still apparent. They are less well-prepared for learning. Teachers have rated neglected children as extremely inattentive, uninvolved, reliant, lacking in creative initiative, and as having much difficulty in comprehending day-to-day schoolwork. They were described as lacking persistence, initiative, and confidence to work on their own. They were dependent on the teacher, somewhat helpless, passive and withdrawn, and at times angry.

Older School-Aged

School-aged children with histories of neglect have serious learning deficits. They score significantly lower on measures of school performance than physically abused or non-maltreated children, particularly in the areas of reading and math. Lack of intellectual stimulation in the neglectful home environment appears to result in significant language deficits. Teachers report that neglected children work and learn at below average levels. They also rate neglected children as having more behavioral problems in school than non-maltreated children. Neglected children are absent from school significantly more often and have a higher percentage of grade repeats than non-maltreated children.

Mediating Effects

Negative developmental consequences for neglected children are not inevitable. Other factors have been identified, which either buffer or add to the effects of neglect on children. Stability of the children's living environment has been identified as modifying the negative effects of maltreatment, whereas multiple out-of-home placements, multiple life stresses, and parental depression contribute to more negative developmental effects of neglect and abuse on children. Children with higher I.Q.'s also appear to suffer less serious developmental effects.

Neglect Related Fatalities
Studies of child fatalities related to child maltreatment indicate that children die from neglect almost as often as from physical abuse. A review of 556 child fatality cases reported to CPS agencies in 1986 indicated that 44.3 percent were related to physical neglect.


The indications from limited research are that child victims of neglect fail to develop secure psychological attachments as infants, which seriously handicaps their subsequent development. Neglected preschool children demonstrate lack of readiness for learning, behavior problems, and less active interaction with peers. School-aged neglected children do poorly in school, but the connection between delinquency and abuse is less clear. Neglected children under age 3 are at high risk for child fatalities. However, children who have higher I.Q.'s and/or who live in less stressful, stable home environments suffer less serious effects of neglect.

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