Heed Neglect, Disrupt Child Maltreatment: a Call to Action for Researchers


Child neglect is the most common type of child maltreatment and neglect is present in 80% of the child fatalities attributed to maltreatment. The disruption of child maltreatment must then prioritize neglect prevention. To date, maltreatment prevention efforts have been most effective for physical and sexual abuse. However, traditional prevention strategies and the supporting research have proven to be less effective at preventing neglect. We posit that a new approach of focusing on macro-level factors, such as economies, labor markets, and governmental affairs, should be investigated. These macro-level factors play a key, yet underexplored role in family circumstances, and they strongly influence parents’ ability to consistently provide safe and sufficient environments for their children. Existing research, policies, and programs have successfully improved the health and safety of children in many areas including reducing physical and sexual abuse and reducing child deaths from disease and car accidents. Yet, these strategies have not been implemented in the area of child neglect, partially because the research community does not fully understand the causes of neglect. To inform new directions for child protection, we propose shifting the focus of research on neglect away from individual and family-level factors of indicated populations. And, we suggest focusing on macro-level factors that, while receiving far less attention from researchers, show initial promise for understanding the causal pathways of neglect and identifying policies for universal prevention. We conclude with recommendations for advancing the precision and quality of research in this area.

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  1. 1.

    There is a larger debate about whether or not neglect should even be investigated by CPS agencies (see Wald 2015). We acknowledge this debate and believe it is worth having, but it is beyond the scope of our paper. Our larger argument that macro-level factors are important in neglect reduction remains regardless of CPS’s ultimate involvement in neglect cases.

  2. 2.

    Some of the rise should be attributed to better identification of child maltreatment deaths, but even when using caution, the statistics point to an increase in the child maltreatment.

  3. 3.

    These papers do not identify the effect of the EITC on neglect specifically; they use an aggregate measure of overall maltreatment.


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The authors are grateful to the National Foundation to End Child Abuse and Neglect (EndCAN) for organizing this call for papers, especially Lori Poland and Richard Krugman and the participants at the 2019 EndCAN summit. We are grateful for Gary Melton's advice and revision assistance. We also thank the Doris Duke Fellowship for the Promotion of Child Well-Being for connecting us to each other and this topic. Most importantly, we thank the many professionals and scholars dedicated to ending child abuse and neglect in our lifetime.

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Correspondence to Kerri M. Raissian.

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Bullinger, L.R., Feely, M., Raissian, K.M. et al. Heed Neglect, Disrupt Child Maltreatment: a Call to Action for Researchers. Int. Journal on Child Malt. 3, 93–104 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s42448-019-00026-5

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  • Neglect
  • Disruption
  • Macro-level factors