Prevalence and risk factors of child neglect in the general population

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Public Health, 138, 86–92. 

Objectives: Child neglect is a major public health problem. It is the most frequently reported and substantiated form of maltreatment in youth protective services, and its effects are the most harmful to children. Yet, very few studies have documented its extent and risk factors in the general population. This study aims at documenting the annual prevalence and risk factors of child-neglect behaviours in the general population according to child age and parental gender.

Study design: Cross-sectional population survey.

Methods:A sample consisting of 3298 mothers and 1104 fathers of children between six months and 15 years old responded to a telephone survey. The prevalence of neglect was documented using the short version of the Parent-Report Multidimensional Neglectful Behaviour Scale for three child-age categories.

Results: Annual prevalence rates vary between 20.6% (95% CI 18.2–23.1) and 29.4% (95% CI 26.6–32.4) depending on the children's age. Although statements do not vary by parent gender, the factors associated with neglect depend on whether they are reported by the mother or the father. Mothers present more mental health problems, while fathers struggle more commonly with difficulties related to their life context.

Conclusions: Measuring neglect in the population presents numerous challenges. Nonetheless, this study made it possible to document the extent of neglectful behaviours in the general population. The results confirm that the risk factors related to neglectful behaviours are similar to those documented in studies concerning situations of neglect reported to the authorities. Other studies are needed to better understand how this phenomenon is manifested in the population.

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Research Areas

Province / Territory
Canadian CW research
Journal article