Child neglect is one of the most common forms of maltreatment. Neglect is a topic that encompasses complex issues, many of which are also emerging research areas. This paper aims to provide a broad overview of these issues in relation to current thinking and to generate discussion points for practitioners, policy makers and researchers.

Key messages:

  • Poverty and child neglect are closely linked but not all children from poor families are neglected and children from more affluent families can be neglected.
  • Neglect is often portrayed as the “fault” of mothers, while failing to take into account the role of neglectful fathers. The gendered nature of “neglectful parenting” may be, in part, explained by links between single mothers and poverty.
  • A tertiary child protection response may not be the best way to respond to children who are being neglected—neglectful families are complex and have high needs so require multiple levels of support and resourcing. The National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children aims to address these issues through the use of a public health model.
  • For many neglected children, access to resources and education to support families would minimise the effects of neglect—keeping them out of the statutory child protection system.
  • There is no quick, easy, “one size fits all” response to child neglect—the response must be based on careful assessment of needs and take into account the diverse nature of neglect and the compounding impact of multiple and complex needs.
  • Where it is necessary to provide a child protection response to neglect, an effective response is likely to be long term, resource intensive, and complex.
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