The Role of Mothers in Cases of Child Neglect
Neglect is notoriously difficult to define. However, one feature that seems to thread through different definitions is an acknowledgement that it involves the breakdown or absence of a relationship of care (Turney 2000). So an understanding of the nature of care may therefore be important for those working with neglect. But care is a heavily gendered concept, closely associated with women or femininity – and this, in turn, has significant implications for the way professionals make sense of and work with families where child neglect is a concern.
The first part of this chapter explores how neglect is constructed as a problem for and about women. I consider the relationship between care and neglect and highlight the gendered nature of care in western social/political thought, looking particularly at motherhood as the 'ideal' caring relationship.
But the close connection between women and caring can be challenged on both practice and broader ethical grounds. So the second part of the chapter briefly considers some of the negative consequences of adopting a heavily gendered view of care, and proposes a repositioning of the idea of care that allows us to see it as a 'universal aspect of human life' (Tronto 1993, p.110) rather than as simply something women do. This opens up a broader debate about both who can and who should care, and may lead to a way of understanding relationships of care that better serves both children and their mothers. It also invites consideration of the ways in which social workers and others can intervene to ensure that children experience the relationships of care that they need for healthy development. The latter part of the chapter identifies some of the practice issues that arise as a result of the earlier analysis, using an