Child neglect is the failure to provide a child with basic needs. Child neglect is a form of maltreatment that is usually done to children by their parents or caregivers. “Child neglect is a term used most often to encompass parents’ or caretakers’ failure to provide basic physical health care, supervision, nutrition, personal hygiene, emotional nurturing, education, or safe housing” (Miller-Perrin, & Perrin, 2007). The issue with this definition is determining how much importance should be placed on parents “intentionality with regard to parental failure to provide” (Miller-Perrin, & Perrin, 2007).
Along with this issue, raises the question about what happens if a family cannot afford to provide their child with basic needs? The United States Department of Health and Human Services (US DHHS) has broadened the definition of neglect to include this; “it distinguished between parental failure to provide when options are available and failure to provide when options are no available” (Miller-Perrin, & Perrin, 2007). Child neglect is looked at as an act of omission rather than an act of commission; but with this definition it did not include the parents or caregivers that did not provide for their child because of financial problems.
The US DHHS also expanded the definition of neglect to include endangering a child, even if there is no actual harm seen, people are still considered a perpetrator if there is potential harm done. The movie Gone Baby Gone shows many different examples of neglect in a “real life” environment. Gone Baby Gone is a movie about a four year old girl, Amanda McCready, kidnapping. Two private investigators are hired to try and solve the case of who took Amanda. Amanda went missing because of the lack of care, neglect that her mother, Helene, was subjecting her to.
Child neglect is the hardest type of maltreatment to define and is the most commonly reported type of maltreatment. The next issue looked at when determining whether something is neglect or not is the frequency and duration at which it occurs at. A single act of neglectful behavior is usually seen as a normal flaw in parenting; an example of this would be, skipping a bath or missing a meal. Usually these types of things are just considered a parental error, not an incident of child neglect.
Some people argue that if an act of neglect happens once or ne hundred times it should still be dealt with as neglect; but as stated before, others would say that one act of omission does not classify as neglect. One must have an understanding of the characteristics and causes of child neglect, this will help determine if what has occurred (the frequency and duration) is classified as child neglect. In most cases a family is characterized as chronically or non-chronically neglectful families. Chronically neglectful families are characterized “by multiple problems and deficits, including lack of knowledge, skills, and tangible resources” (Miller-Perrin, & Perrin, 2007).
Non-chronically neglectful (or new neglect) families “had experienced recent significant crises (parental divorce or illness) that appeared to be overwhelming and affected their normal coping abilities” (Miller-Perrin, & Perrin, 2007). Amanda was part of a chronically neglectful family. Her mother abused drugs and would have drug deals in the house, forgetting that Amanda was around. There were multiple instances where Helene left Amanda by herself in the house; Amanda was only four years old at the time of her disappearance, which means that she was being neglected starting at an extremely young age.
On the night of Amanda’s disappearance she was being used as part of a drug exchange by her mother and her mother’s boyfriend. There are different forms of neglect including: physical, developmental, emotional, and environmental neglect. Physical neglect is “failure to provide a child with basic necessities of life, such as food, clothing, and shelter” (Miller-Perrin, & Perrin, 2007). Physical neglect also includes postponing medical response to a situation and refusing custody of a child.
Developmental neglect is, “generally defined as failure to provide a child with the experiences necessary for growth and development” (Miller-Perrin, & Perrin, 2007). Developmental neglect is also known as educational neglect. It is extremely important for a child to have social interactions with peers and cognitive growth; lack of this constitutes as developmental neglect. “Failure to provide a child with emotional support, security and encouragement” (Miller-Perrin, & Perrin, 2007) is considered emotional abuse.
Emotional security is a very important aspect of a child’s life; he/she should always feel like he/she has someone to go to that cares about them and wants to help them. Many problems can be created if a child does not feel this and is experiencing emotional neglect. Environmental neglect is considered the newest form of neglect; it is “a lack of environmental safety, opportunities, and resources associated with living in a neighborhood burdened by crime, lack of civility, and few resources for children and families” (Miller-Perrin, & Perrin, 2007).
Amanda was a victim of developmental, emotional, and environmental neglect. There did not seem to be any schooling in Amanda’s life; she was also being exposed to a life of drug dealing. Being exposed to a life like this is what got her kidnapped in the first place. She was emotionally neglected because her mother did not seem to care about what she was putting her child through and also did not make much of an effort to go and find her daughter, Amanda. Amanda was also in an environmentally neglectful situation. The neighborhood she was growing up in did not provide a safe place for her to live and grow.
Her home and town were a place where multiple illegal situations occurred. Even after Amanda was returned home, her mother did not make an effort to keep her daughter safe by hiring a babysitter to watch her daughter while she went out for the night. There are different characteristics that both children and parents/caregivers have that make them most susceptible to neglect or to be neglectful, both Amanda and Helene had these characteristics. Neglect generally declines as age increases. Over half of all reported neglect cases occur to a child under five years of age.
About thirty percent of neglect cases occur to a child under one year old. There are much more serious consequences for younger children in comparison to older ones. There are not many differences among gender. Males are slightly more likely to be neglected as a child; mainly when discussing emotional neglect. Males are taught to keep their emotions in while females are more likely to try talking about their problems, causing them to experience less emotional neglect. There are no clear patterns when it comes to neglect and race, but there are patterns seen among socioeconomic status.
Someone of a lower socioeconomic status is more likely to be neglected in comparison to a higher socioeconomic status. Amanda was four years old making her part of the statistic of reported neglect cases. She also did not seem to come from a very high socioeconomic status. Although Amanda did not have many visible characteristics of a victim for neglect, her mother Helene had many characteristics that made her more likely to be a parent of child neglect. Females are more likely to be reported for abuse because they usually spend more time with their children.
Parents who are neglectful show many different psychological and behavioral characteristics. Neglectful parents, “engage in less verbal affection, and exhibit less warmth in discussion with their children” (Miller-Perrin, & Perrin, 2007). Not only do neglectful parents show less verbal affection but they are overall less understanding and interact less when it comes to their children. Amanda was part of a single parent household which is another factor that makes a child more prone to neglect. Helene was a drug abuser; drug or alcohol abusers are four times more likely to abuse their children, by neglecting them.
Child neglect has many different short term effects on a child. “The most frequently cited problem associated with child neglect is difficulty in social adjustment” (Miller-Perrin, & Perrin, 2007). Child neglect is often categorized into two different types of attachment to the parent or caregiver: anxious attachment or disorganized attachment. Anxious attachment is when I child becomes overly dependent on a caregiver as a result of neglect. When Patrick found Amanda after being kidnapped by Doyle, she showed characteristics of anxious attachment.
Amanda did not want to leave Doyle and his wife even though she was put through a traumatic experience because of them. Disorganized attachment is a type of attachment, “categorized by a lack of a coherent style of pattern for coping” (Miller-Perrin, & Perrin, 2007). Children who demonstrate these types of attachments usually have problems communicating and show aggression faster. Child neglect also interferes with a child’s social development. They do not interact with peers well and have a hard time adjusting in a social setting.
Many children who have been neglected show “more socially withdrawn behavior, decreased prosocial behavior, greater conflict with friends, and fewer reciprocated friendships than nonneglected children” (Miller-Perrin, & Perrin, 2007). Children who are being neglected also show cognitive and academic deficits. Children who have been neglected show a greater academic deficit than children who have been physically abused (Miller-Perrin, & Perrin, 2007). Since many cases of neglect happens to children at a low socioeconomic status, education is not being met and is also most likely not being dealt with at home.
Children who have been maltreated (neglected) score lower on school performances when being compared to nonmaltreated children. Emotional and behavioral problems are another short term consequence of child neglect. This could be due to the fact that neglectful parents “rate their children as having behavioral problems in general” (Miller-Perrin, & Perrin, 2007). Child neglect also results in children having difficulty expressing their emotions; they may not be able to differentiate between happiness and sadness. In Gone Baby Gone, Amanda was not dealing with many emotional or behavioral problems.
There are other effects that children can show in their later years, long term effects. Long term effects range from cognitive deficits to psychiatric disturbances. People who experienced child neglect are also more likely to be involved in illegal behavior. Other studies have shown links between, “child neglect and dysthymia, antisocial personality disorder, and alcohol problems in adults…” (Miller-Perrin, & Perrin, 2007). These types of problems would be a long term effect because this person experienced something traumatic during childhood.
A long term effect that Amanda may experience is having trouble in school and learning in general. She was never around educated people and there was no sign of her going to school. Helene would put the television on for Amanda to watch and then leave the house for hours; this can result in poor cognitive development if this pattern continued over a number of years. Child neglect cases are treated in different ways than other forms of child maltreatment. Neglect cases are most commonly dealt with through interventions. Interventions are found helpful when dealing with neglect because it shows the family that they have a support system.
Interventions can range from one on one with a parent to a full family intervention. It is recommended that, “programs use as few individuals as possible to deliver such services to a family and that they deliver the services for an extended period” (Miller-Perrin, & Perrin, 2007). This means that there should not be too many people besides the family present at a given time; the family should also not feel rushed with their services. There is another intervention strategy called, multiservice interventions.
Multiservice interventions offer families different types of services to help deal with hat is going on. Examples of multiservice interventions include, “parenting groups, intensive in-home counseling, and supportive interventions” (Miller-Perrin, & Perrin, 2007). Doyle thought that taking Amanda out of the neglectful situation she was in was the most helpful type of intervention; while Patrick thought that giving her back to her mother and providing services (multiservice interventions) would be better for Amanda. I think that Patrick was right for giving Amanda back to Helene. The last thing a child advocate wants to resort to is taking a child away from his/her mother.
I understand why Doyle thought what he was doing was best but it is more important to try and keep a child with his/her mother. Taking a child away from the home causes more long term effects than child neglect causes in the end. The movie did not go into much detail about what happened between Helene and Amanda. I think that the best thing would be to have interventions with Helene and make sure she understands the consequences her actions could have on Amanda. If this did not work then I would have to reconsider all of the facts; after doing so I may be more inclined to agree with Doyle.
Neglect is an extremely difficult form of maltreatment to diagnose because the definition of neglect is so broad. Neglect is also the most commonly reported form of maltreatment, meaning that it is a subject to continue furthering research in. There are many different short and long term effects of neglect. Few intervention and prevention strategies have been determined for dealing with child neglect. Neglect can be seen in many different areas; Gone Baby Gone was one movie that portrayed how serious the topic of child neglect is.