Unveiling Covert Abuse
Neglect has been found to adversely influence neurological development, attachment formation, and both child and adult psychopathology. Due to the covert nature of neglect, detection of neglectful parenting may be difficult to determine by both uninformed and informed providers; this may be exceptionally challenging when faced with subtypes of neglect where physical harm is less apparent. Difficulties in establishing a clear definition of neglect have implications for both the research and legal contexts (i.e., incidents of neglect resulting in a referral to child protective services agencies). As a result, it is important to be abreast of associated contextual risk factors, including parental substance abuse or mental health stressors, low SES, and young maternal age, among others. Similarly, problem child behaviors, deficient physical development (i.e., associated with malnutrition), impaired intellectual functioning, and limited peer support may serve as red flags that the child is being reared in an impoverished or neglectful family environment. Consequently, primary care physicians are in a unique evaluative position of monitoring a child’s health and development, and may be able to provide resources to families where neglect is suspected. Teachers may also have the ability to recognize when a child is exhibiting “symptoms” of neglect, such as an inability to grasp grade-appropriate information, coupled with behavioral difficulties, malnourishment, or inappropriate or dirty clothing.