The Science of Child Neglect, Part One

July 10, 2017 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

This is an excellent paper that’s well worth a read. It’s a 2012 working paper by the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard. Its title is “The Science of Neglect: The Persistent Absence of Responsive Care Disrupts the Developing Brain.” It’s a powerful statement about the effects of parental neglect on very young children. The authors say that serious neglect of newborns, infants and toddlers is every bit as harmful as physical or sexual abuse and possibly more so.

Now, I want to be clear. What the paper refers to as neglect isn’t always what child welfare agencies refer to as neglect. Unfortunately, the paper isn’t as clear as I’d have liked about the differences. The authors insufficiently (in my opinion) stress the differences between neglect that requires no intervention from outside the family, neglect that can be remedied by, say, parenting classes or a visit to a counsellor and neglect that truly threatens the child’s current and future well-being and requires the replacement of the parent by a more competent caregiver.

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