Authors: Williams SE
Child Abuse Negl. 2017 Apr 05;68:11-24
While there has been an increasing professional and political focus on the prevalence and harmfulness of child neglect, little has been done to explore what child neglect means outside child protection circles. This qualitative study explores lay constructions of child neglect by thematically analyzing focus group discussions between 46 self-defined 'lay' people in England. Participants viewed neglect as extremely damaging for children and as arising when children's physical, emotional, training and supervisory needs were unmet due to abnormal parental behavior. Children with unmet needs were positioned as deprived, unloved, uncontrolled and escaping. They were only positioned as neglected when failure to meet their needs was attributable to a lack of parental knowledge and skill (clueless parents), a lack of appropriate parental disposition (underinvested parents) or both (unsuitable parents). 'Normal' parents - those with the appropriate parental disposition, skills and knowledge - who failed to meet their children's needs were not seen as neglectful but rather as overburdened. As 'normal parenting' has fragmented in late modernity, society wide consensus on child neglect was felt by participants to have retreated to child protection definitions, alienating lay understandings. If child neglect really is 'everybody's business', then it is important that lay people are included in forging new definitions of and responses to meeting the needs of children.