Abstract: Unmet Needs or Parental Behaviors? Exploring the Dimensions of Neglect (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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Unmet Needs or Parental Behaviors? Exploring the Dimensions of Neglect

Friday, January 13, 2023
Valley of the Sun B, 2nd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Julia Kobulsky, PhD, Assistant Professor, Temple University, PA
Background and Purpose: Neglect, typically defined as unmet child needs due to lack of parental care, is the most common form of maltreatment. Neglect is associated with problems in multiple domains of psychosocial functioning and health throughout the lifespan. However, our response to neglect is mired by longstanding confusion—and sometimes contentious debate—over its nature. Among areas where clarity is lacking is the dimensionality of neglect (i.e., neglect’s subtypes). Various typologies for neglect exist. These are typically organized around child needs. For example, the Multidimensional Neglectful Behavior Scales (MNBS) is based on four theoretical neglect types: physical, educational, emotional, supervisory. Such neglect typologies, however, have surprisingly little scientific basis. This study sought to build knowledge on the dimensionality of neglect through an exploratory factor analysis of a modified version of the MNBS.

Methods: The study sample included 883 high-risk youths who completed 12- and/or 14-year interviews for the Longitudinal Studies of Child Abuse and Neglect. Youths self-reported experiences of neglect to 25 items (0 = never, 3 = a lot). Exploratory factor analysis with oblique (Geomin) rotation was conducted in Mplus v. 8.2. Items were specified as ordinal and weighted least squares means and variance adjusted estimation was used. Fit indices (Comparative Fit Index [CFI] > .95; Tucker Lewis Index [TLI] > .95; Root Mean Square of Approximation [RMSEA] < .05; Standardized Root Mean Square Residual [SRMR] < .08), Chi-square difference tests, and the Kaiser-Gutman rule were used to determine the number of factors. Theory and an a priori cut-off of .4 for factor loadings were applied to assign items to factors.

Results: The 3-factor solution was the most parsimonious to have fit indices within thresholds (CFI = .968; TLI = .958; RMSEA = .043 [.039, .047]; SRMR = .051). This solution had no cross loadings and made sense theoretically. Results indicated two major factors: parental nurturance/involvement (11 items; factor loading range: .48, .91) and monitoring (12 items; factor loading range: .39, .97). The monitoring dimension included items explicitly pertaining to monitoring/supervision (e.g., “[my parents] want to know what I’m doing if not at home”), and about educational needs (e.g., "make sure I always go to school”) and physical needs (e.g., “take care of me when sick”). The third factor included 2 items about being left home alone; this dimension was uncorrelated with the other two.

Conclusions and Implications: This analysis revealed two major neglect subtypes centering on parent behaviors (nurturance/involvement and monitoring), contrasting with predominant neglect typologies that are based on unmet child needs. Findings imply the need for qualitative research to support the content validity of neglect measures. They suggest fundamental issues with how predominant definitions of neglect combine two distinct axes (unmet child needs and parental behaviors). Disentangling unmet child needs from parental behaviors, as has been advocated by proponents of child-centered definitions of neglect, may lead to greater clarity on the nature of neglect and its etiology, allowing research to clarify parental behaviors and contextual influences on unmet child needs.