The role of supervisory neglect in childhood injury

Children Australia

This paper explores the theoretical understandings of supervisory neglect and how these understandings might assist in delivering practical responses using a public health approach to child protection.

Children are vulnerable to different types of injury depending on their stage of growth and development. Children will also need varying degrees of supervision depending on their exposure to a range of risk and protective factors.

Key findings:

  • There is no universally accepted, all encompassing definition of the concept of "neglect", and consideration of supervisory neglect suggests that there is no "one size fits all" definition.
  • Supervision can be a complex, resource-intensive activity when undertaken at its maximum effectiveness - understanding and evaluating what comprises "good enough parenting" remains subjective and is difficult to evaluate.
  • Identification of neglect should pay heed to parental competence and/or caregiver capability, cultural context, child personality and level of maturity, and environmental risk factors.
  • The need to forecast where future harm may arise from a lack of appropriate supervision is paramount.
  • Impoverished families living in "poor" neighbourhoods may be unable to provide adequate nutrition, medical care or education for their children not because of a lack of recognition of the child's needs or a want to do so, but because of a lack of access to resources.
  • Exposure to one type of harm (such as neglect) increases the risk of exposure to other forms of harm (such as physical or sexual abuse). In a child protection context, if children suffer a number of injuries this may serve as a warning that there are other issues of a potentially neglectful nature.
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