Economic, Cultural and Social
Contexts of Neglect
Nick Spencer and Norma Baldwin
This chapter is based on the concept that the development and well-being of children is not simply the responsibility of individual parents and families but of societies as a whole. Societies, through social, economic and educational policies, can be supportive or neglectful of children, providing an environment and climate in which the capacity of families to care for their children is either strengthened or undermined. Social and economic policy decisions may enhance or impede the ability of parents to undertake the difficult task of child rearing. This societal responsibility still receives insufficient attention in the debates related to child care and child abuse and neglect. Research and policy have largely been driven by explanations based on the failings of individual families and their psychological functioning and structures. It is worthy of note that societies with the least child and family friendly policies such as the USA and the UK are those in which the greatest attention is given to individual parental responsibility for child care and least attention to societal responsibility. When children are neglected to the point of harm, or where harm becomes likely, the focus of professionals will be on their immediate circumstances and their interactions with carers.
We are not suggesting that the causes of neglect are purely structural, nor that the eradication of poverty and material disadvantage will ensure an end to neglect. We are suggesting however that the wide context of neglect – the numerous influences on the situations in which it is most likely to occur – needs to be understood holistically.
Children's experience of growing up will be influenced by the circumstances, beliefs, attitudes and relationships of parents and carers, which in turn will be influenced by the wider economic and social context. Parents and carers will be the mediators of these wider influences. We argue that realistic understandings of these inter-relationships need to underpin policy and practice.