Eureka!: 60 Seconds

60 Seconds with Annette Semanchin Jones and Patricia Logan-Greene

A Probing Portrait of Chronic Neglect

Portrait of Annette Semanchin Jones and Patricia Logan-Greene standing in behind stacks of files.

Annette Semanchin Jones (at right) and Patricia Logan-Greene (at left), assistant professors in the School of Social Work

Interview by Sally Jarzab

In the realm of social work, chronic child neglect gets little attention, despite growing evidence that it can cause serious long-term harm. Determined to deepen understanding of the issue, two UB researchers mined through Child Protective Services (CPS) case records to identify indicators of chronic neglect and to track caseworker responses. They found that addressing chronic child neglect requires a comprehensive assessment approach that paints a more detailed picture of families at risk. The rub? Resources.  

Neglect accounts for the majority of reports of child maltreatment, and yet it’s understudied. Why?

ASJ: Physical or sexual abuse can seem more egregious and therefore gets more resources devoted to it. However, the impact of neglect may be no less serious. In fact, research is showing that chronic neglect can have worse impacts than, say, a single incident of physical abuse. 

How so?

PLG: Educational neglect, for example, can set children back in school, which sets them back with their peers, which can shunt them toward negative peers, which could encourage delinquency, and so on—different effects can cascade from simple failure to help children get what they need at critical periods of time. 

That sounds serious.

ASJ: It can be. But often, any one particular case that comes to CPS doesn’t quite rise to that level of seriousness, and so children are still maintained in the family. So then the case closes, but because things aren’t addressed, it comes back to CPS. 

How can this cycle be broken?

ASJ: The use of comprehensive assessment early on might prevent a family from falling into this category of chronic neglect. The families in our study had multiple stressors: poverty, domestic violence, substance abuse, behavioral issues and more. Ideally, CPS workers would have good training and assessment skills in this whole range of issues. 

PLG: Even then, they often do not have the resources to do a thorough assessment of everything that comes through. Especially if there appears to be a lower level risk of harm, as is often the case with reports of neglect, they can’t afford to spend the time compared to abuse cases that demand more immediate attention. 

So breaking the cycle is not a simple matter.

PLG: One of the important messages is that there’s no magic bullet. The families in our study were seriously challenged families that needed holistic services that often go beyond the bounds of what Child Protective Services can do. 

ASJ: Because our study looked at the investigation stage, we focused on the need for comprehensive assessment. In an ideal world, that would be followed by comprehensive service delivery. They go hand in hand.