Child neglect is a prevalent and serious public health concern in the United States. Studies show that children who experience neglect often have negative outcomes, including poor physical health, behavioral problems, and developmental delay. At the most serious level, an estimated 886 children died due to neglect in 2015; 72.3% of all child maltreatment fatality cases. However, neglect is not a singular construct but a term used to describe an array of parental behaviors and omissions. These subtypes may have differing etiologies and responses to intervention. States differ in regard to the particular behaviors and omissions that are included in what is reportable as child neglect. Understanding if state CPS populations vary according to reporting policy specific to neglect is important to appropriate program planning efforts to intervene.
Data were drawn from the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System (NCANDS) from 2011-2014, as well as the state statutes policy database maintained by Child Welfare Gateway and the state appendices of the annual Child Maltreatment reports. A linear regression approach was used to examine whether or not state policy definitions of subtypes of neglect influenced the trend in prevalence of the percentage child maltreatment reports that were made for neglect across four years. Four variables served as controls, including the level of evidence for substantiation, the presence of differential response, the rate of screened out cases, and child poverty rates by states because of their close relationship to reported child neglect cases.
There is great variability across state statutes in the definitions of child neglect. For example, emotional neglect is only identified in 11 states, and 26 states include failure to educate the child. Multivariate analyses showed that states that specify the inclusion of educational neglect was significantly associated with a higher percentage of reported neglect, and this relationship has been consistent for all 5 years. The average neglect report rates were 69.46% (n=21) for states including educational neglect in their policies regarding reporting but only 60.32% (n=21) for states that did not specify this type of neglect
Conclusions and Implications:
It is important to better understand how cases that come to the attention of child protection may vary according to the policy gatekeeping mechanisms. States with a higher prevalence of neglect cases related to specific subtypes need to consider whether or not the assessment and intervention process in place is designed to impact outcomes for such cases. Without such consideration, states may be at risk of not meeting policy mandates in regard to outcomes such as report recurrence over time.