Abstract: Defining Child Neglect: A Scoping Review of Perceptions, Trends, and Risk Factors in Different Cultural Groups (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

133P Defining Child Neglect: A Scoping Review of Perceptions, Trends, and Risk Factors in Different Cultural Groups

Friday, January 17, 2020
Marquis BR Salon 6 (ML 2) (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Melanie Yu, MA, Doctoral Research Associate, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ
Jason Lynch, BA, MSW Student, Montclair State University, Montclair, NJ
Cassandra Simmel, PhD, Associate Professor, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ
Svetlana Shpiegel, PhD, Associate Professor, Montclair State University, Montclair, NJ

 A central dilemma facing child welfare researchers and practitioners is differentiating maltreatment from diverse parenting practices and traditions. Defining any type of child maltreatment is notoriously difficult to do; for child neglect, this category of maltreatment is arguably the most difficult type to define. Moreover, the incidence of neglect is intertwined with broader macro environmental factors, thereby making it difficult to disentangle neglect from systemic issues (poverty). The difficulty with defining neglect is further exacerbated when attempting to distinguish abusive acts from diverse modes of child rearing. It is therefore important to understand how neglect is manifested and understood in different cultural groups and environmental settings. Relatedly, racial disparities in the child welfare system is a widely recognized problematic issue. Despite concerted efforts to better understand and remediate the problem, African American and Hispanic children continue to be disproportionality represented in the child welfare system; the extent to which other racial/ethnic groups in the US are swept up in the child welfare system is not well understood. Therefore, this project describes a scoping review conducted to identify the latest research on cultural relativity in defining child neglect, specifically across a range of ethnic and racial communities. It also reviewed trends and contributing factors to neglect in these communities. How child neglect is defined and measured is an enormously complex undertaking and has dominated the research literature for several decades. This review provides a specific focus on the latest body of knowledge that informs overall understanding of child neglect.


A scoping review was conducted to examine the current research on the aforementioned topics. Scoping reviews are a type of knowledge synthesis conducted in order to systematically review and outline latest trends, best practices, research gaps, or the characteristics on a topic or question. In this project, 41 articles were reviewed; inclusionary criteria included peer-reviewed articles from the United States spanning 2005-2019. The search terms all pertained to “child neglect”, plus: prevalence, immigrants, United States, child welfare, definitions, and cross-culture. Articles reviewed emphasized myriad diverse ethnic and cultural communities (17 different racial/ethnic groups), but mostly represented Asian/ Pacific Island and Latinx ethnic groups. Most of the studies were quantitative, though a small number of qualitative studies were also included.

Findings & Implications:

Several studies over the past three decades have explored cultural relativity in understanding caregiving practices and the complexity of recognizing incidence of neglect in numerous cultural communities. Our results convey that, similar to the manifestation of neglect in the broader population, substance abuse and poverty are associated with neglect reports. Further, descriptions of caregivers’ confusion about child welfare proceedings are described. Thus, the interplay of risks and caregiving factors may have unique manifestation in many cultural groups. The findings of this scoping review suggest that child welfare systems have an ethical imperative to bolster their cultural competence in their recognition of and response to observations of child neglect in different cultural communities.