Psychiatric Quarterly

, Volume 86, Issue 2, pp 253–259 | Cite as

Unintentional Child Neglect: Literature Review and Observational Study

  • Emily Friedman
  • Stephen B. Billick
Original Paper


Child abuse is a problem that affects over six million children in the United States each year. Child neglect accounts for 78 % of those cases. Despite this, the issue of child neglect is still not well understood, partially because child neglect does not have a consistent, universally accepted definition. Some researchers consider child neglect and child abuse to be one in the same, while other researchers consider them to be conceptually different. Factors that make child neglect difficult to define include: (1) Cultural differences; motives must be taken into account because parents may believe they are acting in the child’s best interests based on cultural beliefs (2) the fact that the effect of child abuse is not always immediately visible; the effects of emotional neglect specifically may not be apparent until later in the child’s development, and (3) the large spectrum of actions that fall under the category of child abuse. Some of the risk factors for increased child neglect and maltreatment have been identified. These risk factors include socioeconomic status, education level, family composition, and the presence of dysfunction family characteristics. Studies have found that children from poorer families and children of less educated parents are more likely to sustain fatal unintentional injuries than children of wealthier, better educated parents. Studies have also found that children living with adults unrelated to them are at increased risk for unintentional injuries and maltreatment. Dysfunctional family characteristics may even be more indicative of child neglect. Parental alcohol or drug abuse, parental personal history of neglect, and parental stress greatly increase the odds of neglect. Parental depression doubles the odds of child neglect. However, more research needs to be done to better understand these risk factors and to identify others. Having a clearer understanding of the risk factors could lead to prevention and treatment, as it would allow for health care personnel to screen for high-risk children and intervene before it is too late. Screening could also be done in the schools and organized after school activities. Parenting classes have been shown to be an effective intervention strategy by decreasing parental stress and potential for abuse, but there has been limited research done on this approach. Parenting classes can be part of the corrective actions for parents found to be neglectful or abusive, but parenting classes may also be useful as a preventative measure, being taught in schools or readily available in higher-risk communities. More research has to be done to better define child abuse and neglect so that it can be effectively addressed and treated.


Child neglect Unintentional injuries Child abuse Maltreatment 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Thomas Jefferson UniversityPhiladelphiaUSA
  2. 2.NYU School of MedicineNew YorkUSA

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