Child Neglect: The Precursor to Child Abuse

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT: Using questionnaire and interview techniques, 167 children aged 11 to 18, and 213 adults were asked for information on their experiences of physical abuse, physical neglect, verbal abuse, emotional neglect, and sexual abuse. When neglect preceded abuse in children who experienced both, the negative impact on the child's outlook was magnified. Neglect increases a child's susceptibility and vulnerability to abuse. Our data indicates neglect has a greater impact than abuse on a child's selfperception and future outlook. Being mistreated as a child and being mistreated by a spouse correlate highly with a parent's tendency to mistreat, particularly with physical and emotional neglect.

INTRODUCTION

In the research on child abuse and neglect, the study of neglect is badly overlooked. Although both clinical and research evidence indicates that childhood neglect has severely damaging effects on child development and adult psychology, abuse is more dramatic and attracts more public and scientific attention. Our study, contrasting the effects of abuse and neglect, appears to demonstrate that neglect has a more pronounced and longer lasting effect on a child's self esteem and outlook on the future. It appears that neglect makes children both more susceptible and more vulnerable to abuse. Neglected children are more easily taken advantage of. When they are abused, because they are more psychologically fragile, they are more deeply and more extensively hurt. The combination of abuse and neglect creates a greater impact upon all mistreated children but those who are neglected first are more damaged.

There is less emphasis in the literature on child neglect possibly because physical abuse and sexual abuse are more definable and measurable. Articles on mistreatment from developing countries might be expected to emphasize the effects of neglect, yet they also seem more interested in abuse. It is assumed that in North America neglect is less frequent and less traumatizing than abuse. However, there is evidence that with the declining value of children (Preston, 1984), more children live in poverty and are consequently more often physically neglected; with poor nourishment, housing, and medical care, etc. Emotional and intellectual neglect can take place anywhere and may be relatively more prevalent in wealthier countries. Though it is difficult to measure objectively, many patients and clients report the consequent damage to their lives.

The early studies of Dennis (1973) and Bowlby (1969) have shown that neglect interferes with the normal development of children and creates problems with early and later attachment. This has been confirmed by recent research (Crittenden, 1992; Goldson, 1991; LyonsRuth, Connell, Grunebaum, & Botein, 1990). Our interest is on the effects of abuse and neglect on a child's self-esteem, hope about the future and psychiatric illness.

Although only one-tenth (approx.) of the recent articles on child abuse and neglect emphasize neglect, there are some fascinating findings. Ohshima, Nakaya, Saito, Maeda, and Nagano (1991) report the autopsy findings of a neglected baby girl who died of septicaemia. They state that an immunodeficiency was secondary to thymic involution which was due to nutritional neglect. A later publication (Fukunaga, Mizoi, Yamashita, Yamada, et. al., 1992) describes the results of autopsies on forty-six children. They confirmed that there was marked involution of the thymus resulting in insufficiency of the immune system, all because of neglect.

Galvin, Shekhar, Simon, Stilwell, et. al. (1991) found low levels of dopamine-beta-hydroxylase (DBH) in a high percentage of psychiatrically hospitalized boys who had a history of abuse or neglect. They feel that the low serum DBH may be a biological sequela of seriously disrupted attachment resulting from child neglect.

Neglect appears to result in a variety of psychiatric conditions, particularly self-destructive behaviour. …