Children are vulnerable to different types of injury depending on their stage of growth and development. Children will also need varying degrees of supervision depending on their exposure to a range of risk and protective factors. This paper explores the theoretical understandings of supervisory neglect and how these understandings might assist in delivering practical responses using a public health approach to child protection.
The key messages of this paper are:
- There is no universally accepted, all encompassing definition of the concept of “neglect”, and consideration of supervisory neglect suggests that there is no “one size fits all” definition.
- Supervision can be a complex, resource-intensive activity when undertaken at its maximum effectiveness—understanding and evaluating what comprises “good enough parenting” remains subjective and is difficult to evaluate.
- Identification of neglect should pay heed to parental competence and/or caregiver capability, cultural context, child personality and level of maturity, and environmental risk factors.
- The need to forecast where future harm may arise from a lack of appropriate supervision is paramount.
- Impoverished families living in “poor” neighbourhoods may be unable to provide adequate nutrition, medical care or education for their children not because of a lack of recognition of the child’s needs or a want to do so, but because of a lack of access to resources.
- Exposure to one type of harm (such as neglect) increases the risk of exposure to other forms of harm (such as physical or sexual abuse). In a child protection context, if children suffer a number of injuries this may serve as a warning that there are other issues of a potentially neglectful nature.
For the full version of this paper, see – The role of supervisory neglect in childhood injury
A response to the media coverage of this paper from our Deputy Director (Research):
Parents first and foremost need support, encouragement, and advice in the challenging, sometimes difficult, but rewarding role of parenting.
Our research here at the Australian Institute of Family Studies consistently shows that the best way to protect children is to provide support and resources for parents.
This week, the Institute published a paper on “The role of supervisory neglect in childhood injury”. The purpose of the paper was to assist professionals working in the field to better understand the concept of ‘supervisory neglect’.
The paper notes some of the difficulties parents and carers face in providing supervision. This includes “impoverished families living in ‘poor’ neighbourhoods who may be unable to provide adequate nutrition, medical care or education for their children not because of a lack of recognition of the child’s needs or a want to do so, but because of a lack of access to resources.”
However, one media outlet has highlighted a single aspect of the paper – that child protection workers need to pay heed to the risks associated with children who present with multiple injuries.
As pointed out in the paper, professionals are already attuned to this issue and have many avenues open to them. For example, “parents and caregivers may simply need education about risk of injury and referral to resources for that education rather than intervention at the tertiary level.”
This early intervention strategy may then prevent some children from entering into the child protection system.
However, the Institute is not advocating a ‘bigger’ child protection system. Instead, we see it operating best when parents who are struggling are supported in the community by agencies and institutions like schools, maternal and child health services, playgroups, and networks of family and friends.
But when concerns are raised – for example by a referral from a hospital emergency department because of the injuries a child presents with – then child protection workers need to be attuned to the possibility that they may be seeing a case of ‘supervisory neglect’.
Of course, a lot more goes into an assessment of risk than merely looking at a child’s history of injuries. Child protection workers have sophisticated risk assessment tools and professional judgment to assist them in making decisions.
The most important message to understand is that supervisory neglect can be part of the picture of why children are at risk of harm.
We need to work together to ensure parents are supported in providing a secure and protective environment for children.
Dr Daryl Higgins
Deputy Director (Research)
Australian Institute of Family Studies