Practice and Policy Regarding Child Neglect: Lessons from Studies of Institutional Deprivation

Charles H. Zeanah, Lucy S. King

Childhood neglect is associated with impairment across multiple domains of development. Because types of neglect co-occur and are correlated with abuse, most research cannot address the specific effects of psychosocial neglect. This limitation matters because some scholars have advocated that child protection measures should be employed only when a child is physically endangered.

This report reviewed evidence for the effects of psychosocial neglect on development derived from studies of young children raised in U.S. institutions. In these caregiving environments, children are physically safe and receive instrumental care, but the social, emotional, and cognitive components of caregiving are impoverished.

The damaging and often lasting effects of these caregiving environments on young children's development underscore that psychosocial neglect should be considered as dangerous to child well-being as physical maltreatment. Efforts to reform child protection must do so with full appreciation of the consequences of young children's exposure to prolonged psychosocial neglect.

annual review of developmental psychology