By Kara Griffin, MSW, LGSW is the Manager for the Social and Health Programs at Crow Wing County Community Services and co-chair of Crow Wing Energized.
Physical neglect is the most common form of child maltreatment. According to the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS), “neglect is usually a failure of a child’s caregiver to provide needed food, clothing, shelter, medical or mental health care, education or supervision.” It is often found in families struggling with extreme poverty, substance abuse, mental health issues or family violence.
Failure to protect a child from dangerous conditions or exposing a child to certain drugs during pregnancy may also be considered neglect and child maltreatment. This is a complex issue, as different cultures have varying standards by which they view child neglect. For example, a religious belief may prevent a parent from obtaining medical care for their child. Poverty is also a major concern in child neglect and may be its most important cause. In 2013, the State of Minnesota reported that over sixty percent of child maltreatment reports were allegations of child neglect.
Research shows that parents and caregivers who have support—from family, friends, neighbors, and their communities—are more likely to provide safe and healthy homes for their children. When parents lack this support or feel isolated, they may be more likely to make decisions that lead to neglect or abuse. As a community, we can make a conscious effort to support our families through prevention efforts.
We can build prevention programs to focus on reducing particular risk factors, or conditions that research shows are associated with child abuse and neglect. While reducing risk factors, it is also important to promote protective factors, circumstances in families and communities that increase the health and well-being of children and families. These factors help parents who might otherwise be at risk of abusing or neglecting their children to find resources, supports, or coping strategies that allow them to parent effectively, even under stress.
According to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the following six protective factors have been linked to a lower incidence of child abuse and neglect:
- Nurturing and attachment. When parents and children have strong, warm feelings for one another, children develop trust that their parents will provide what they need to thrive.
- Knowledge of parenting and of child and youth development. Parents who understand how children grow and develop and know the typical developmental milestones can provide an environment where children can live up to their potential.
- Parental resilience. Parents who are emotionally resilient have a positive attitude, creatively problem solve, effectively address challenges, and are less likely to direct anger and frustration at their children.
- Social connections. Trusted and caring family or friends can provide emotional support to parents by offering encouragement and assistance in facing the daily challenges of raising a family.
- Concrete supports for parents. Parents need basic resources such as food, clothing, housing, transportation, and access to essential services that address family-specific needs (such as child care, health care, and mental health services) to ensure the health and well-being of their children. When parents have two or more people who can help them in times of need, both parents and children do better.
- Social and emotional competence. Children with the ability to positively interact with others, self-regulate their behaviors, and communicate their feelings have relationships that are more positive with family, friends, and peers. Children without these competencies are at greater risk for maltreatment.