Assessment of Child Neglect
Effective intervention to prevent or remedy child neglect is dependent on accurate and continuing assessment. Assessment is an ongoing process that begins with the first contact and continues throughout the life of a case.
Indicators of Neglect
The assessment process begins with identification of the indicators of neglect; that is, the specific parental inadequacies resulting in the unmeet basic needs of the child. For example, a toddler left unsupervised outside daily for an hour or more at a time; severely unsanitary or dangerous conditions in the home; failure to keep medical appointments for a child's serious health problem; non-organic failure to thrive; or, chronic, unexplained absences from school are specific indicators of neglect. It is also important to determine whether the condition is chronic or a recent change.
Helping professionals must always remember that neglect means lack of minimally adequate care, and be aware of cultural and social class differences and norms affecting childcare. For example, the minimum age at which a child is expected to be able to care for a toddler varies among cultures. Older children in some families are trained to care for younger siblings and have learned basic safety skills, including who to contact in emergency situations. Child care and supervision is a responsibility shared by extended family members, neighbors, or friends in lower income families. Assessment of adequacy of supervision in these families must include these substitute or supplemental care providers.
Similarly, assessment of the adequacy of the size, structure, and physical condition of housing and household furniture and appliances must be considered in the context of the limited housing options that conditions of poverty allow many families. The unavailability of adequate low-rent housing becomes a question of community neglect, rather than child neglect on the part of parents who are denied access to more adequate housing by reason of economics or discrimination.
Problems Identified by the Parents
Obtaining the parent's own perspectives on the family's problems and their causes is essential. Parents' perceptions of problems and priorities may be quite different from that of professional helpers. Chronically neglectful families are typically poor, with multiple problems. Therefore, it is important to identify and set priorities among the family's neglect-related problems. A mother's concern about money to keep utilities on or to forestall eviction must come before the caseworker's concerns about teaching non-abusive approaches to disciplining children.
Gaining the cooperation of neglectful parents is often difficult, but necessary for effective intervention. Recognizing and giving assistance to the problems identified by the parents are critical to obtaining parental cooperation and commitment to improved parenting.
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