Published August 18, 2021
A UB social work researcher has received a $172,000 grant from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development that aims to resolve lingering questions raised by two competing hypotheses on the impact of neglect over time on a child’s well-being.
Patricia Logan-Greene, associate professor in the School of Social Work, will lead the research with JoAnn Lee, associate professor of social work at George Mason University, and Gregory Wilding, professor and chair of the Department of Biostatistics in UB’s School of Public Health and Health Professions.
In addition to testing each hypothesis to understand how neglect harms a child’s well-being, the research team will examine the co-occurrence of neglect with poverty to identify service types that could reduce the likelihood of future neglect.
“We’re very excited to get to work on the project,” says Logan-Greene, an expert on victimization and child abuse. “Knowledge from this study will inform child welfare policy about intervening in neglect and it has the potential to shift practice paradigms to view poverty as a core aspect of child maltreatment.”
Neglect is the most common form of child maltreatment. It represents about 75% of all child protection cases, but despite this prevalence, neglect remains understudied when compared to other types of child maltreatment, such as physical abuse.
“Neglect is also intertwined with poverty, which has been described as ‘the bedrock context in which severe harm to children thrives,’” she says. “But there has been little work on the co-occurrence of both.
“Most funding has been dedicated to services intended to ameliorate these impacts, but it’s still unclear how effective that programming has been at preventing future reports of neglect.”
The damaging effects of neglect are well-documented, but two differing views of neglect cloud how it impacts a child’s physical and mental health over time.
One view points to a “critical period” in a child’s development that could amplify neglect’s harm. This hypothesis maintains that experiences during this period would have a larger and more lasting effect, as opposed to similar experiences encountered during another period of development, adolescence for instance.
In contrast to this “critical period” hypothesis is the idea suggesting a “cumulative effect.” This hypothesis holds that the effects of neglect are equally detrimental to a child’s development — regardless of when they occur — and accumulate over time.
To address this gap and provide for a better understanding of neglect, the research team will use the Longitudinal Studies on Child Abuse and Neglect (LONGSCAN) data. Begun in 1990, LONGSCAN represents more than 20 years of coordinated study using common assessment measures, data collection methods and pooled analysis.
“This study can inform decisions about providing supportive services versus more intensive child welfare interventions for neglected children,” Logan-Greene says. “Furthermore, by understanding the frequency with which poverty and neglect co-occur, and how we can change those statuses through services, we can better address the adverse effects of neglect throughout childhood.
“In this way,” she says, “our study will provide critical information to service providers and policymakers, who will be better equipped to design policies and programs that can disrupt chronic and persistent trauma, and contribute to improved child well-being.”