The Neglect of Child Neglect: A meta-analytic review of the prevalence of neglect

Marije Stoltenborgh, Marian J. Bakermans-Kranenburg , and Marinus H. van IJzendoorn

This article describes the results of a meta-analytic review aimed at providing an estimate of the prevalence of physical and emotional neglect by integrating prevalence figures from the body of research reporting on neglect. The authors conclude that neglect seems to be a neglected type of maltreatment in scientific research. This was apparent from the fact that the study could trace only a modest number of studies reporting on the prevalence of neglect: 16 for physical neglect including 59,406 participants, and 13 for emotional neglect including 59,655 participants. These numbers were strikingly low in comparison to a recently published meta-analysis on the prevalence of child sexual abuse (over 200 publications using self-report measures of the abuse for over 400,000 participants). Furthermore, the prevalence of neglect was always reported in combination with reports of the prevalence of child sexual, physical, and/or emotional abuse, indicating that studies on the prevalence of neglect were by-products rather than a primary interest. Also, the distribution of studies among geographical areas of origin of the sample was uneven with a large majority of samples originating from North America, no samples from South America, and only few from Asia, Australia, and Europe. The same applied to the level of economic development, with all physical neglect samples and a majority of the emotional neglect samples originating from countries labeled as high resource.

Given the dearth of studies investigating the prevalence of child neglect and given the severe consequences of neglect, the authors call for more studies with a primary focus on child neglect to be undertaken, particularly in low-resource countries. Despite these limitations, the current meta-analysis found a disturbingly high prevalence of physical neglect (163/1,000 cases) and emotional neglect (184/1,000 cases). More than 15 % of children are estimated to suffer from neglect. As a result, the authors call on the development of programs to support parents and children to be made available on a large scale to reach the millions of families with children suffering from neglect. Although more studies need to be conducted, they point out that that this high percentage of neglected children is a sufficiently solid evidence base for social policies to make life for these children and their families more bearable, and in accordance with children’s rights.

©Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology