To protect kids from neglect, think holistically

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Child Protective Services (CPS) caseworkers may need to use a more all-encompassing approach to improve how they respond to cases of chronic neglect, which account for more than 70 percent of those reported.

While the typical CPS response often focuses on a single case, which might not appear to be a matter of egregious harm, previous reports may provide a more comprehensive assessment of the situation.

“It’s difficult to incorporate past allegations of neglect when you’re looking at one incident that may not rise to a level of serious concern,” says Annette Semanchin Jones, assistant professor of social work at the University at Buffalo. “For cases of chronic neglect, if workers look over time and consider past allegations more thoroughly they could see an accumulation of harm that is very concerning.”

There is no uniform definition of neglect. Its meaning can change depending on state standards but, generally, neglect is defined as failing to provide children with adequate food, clothing, shelter, medical care, education, and supervision based on their age and development.

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Chronic neglect, which also has different definitions from state to state, is recurring cases of neglect within a family, often across multiple developmental stages for children.

Despite it prevalence, neglect is understudied and poorly understood from a research perspective, but there is a growing body of literature that indicates how neglect, and chronic neglect in particular, can have serious consequences on a child’s emotional regulation and cognitive development.

The new study, published in the journal Children and Youth Services Review, is among the first to examine cases of chronic neglect with a focus on CPS practices. Researchers conducted a detailed case record review to examine CPS practices related to cases of chronic neglect, studying 38 families that had five or more neglect reports to CPS.

The findings show that all of the families had at least four significant stressors, including extreme poverty, parental substance abuse, parental mental health issues, child behavioral problems, or domestic violence.

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“This is a finding in itself,” says Semanchin Jones. “Systems need workers trained to identity these issues. Having good training in place would give workers a foundational knowledge to identify these family challenges early on in the case.”

But the researchers found that case workers sometimes missed evidence of some of these risks.

“There were questions raised about risk-assessment procedures,” says Semanchin Jones. “We saw evidence that the standardized processes used for risk assessment didn’t always match the case notes.”

Better training and implementation of risk assessment protocols may be needed to ensure assessment tools are being used correctly and consistently, she says.

“There needs to be a comprehensive assessment if there is any indication a family is experiencing chronic neglect. Case workers need the tools to look at the history of the case, not just at one incident or one child, but at the whole family.”

Source: University at Buffalo