In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Child Neglect and Emotional Maltreatment

  • Introduction
  • Introductory Works (Encompassing Both Neglect and Emotional Abuse)
  • Seminal Research Studies and Research Consortia (Both Neglect and Emotional Abuse)
  • Government and Specialized Organizations (Both Neglect and Emotional Abuse)

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Social Work Child Neglect and Emotional Maltreatment
Cassandra Simmel, Svetlana Shpiegel
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 March 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389678-0284


Child maltreatment is a pervasive and widespread phenomenon in the United States. While the incidence of child maltreatment had been on the decline until approximately 2012, since that time, the rates have increased somewhat. Child maltreatment affects all age groups of children and youth, although infants and younger children are at the highest risk for victimization. In addition, for many years, all forms of child maltreatment were addressed collectively, with scant research on how distinct types might co-occur or individually present. Through many research, policy, and practice advances in recent years, there is growing awareness regarding how each abuse type is relatively unique in terms of the risks for manifestation, as well as in the outcomes from and interventions for their respective perpetration. Two types of maltreatment—child neglect and emotional abuse—reflect intriguing trends in this overall phenomenon. According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, across all types of maltreatment, child neglect is the most frequently reported form of abuse, while emotional abuse is among the least reported. These reports, however, are derived from statutory definitions and investigations and likely do not convey the true incidence of abuse that occurs in the United States. Moreover, these two types of maltreatment are all the more compelling because they can be perceived as not having visible signs of victimization, thereby making the recognition and verification of their harm difficult to discern. As such, for this and several other factors, research on neglect and emotional abuse have often been linked together. Since the 1990s, however, research has begun to highlight the unique contextual factors associated with their manifestation as well as the negative ramifications of each. Therefore, this chapter begins by presenting broad reference and resource information relevant to both types of abuse. Subsequently, the chapter diverges to focus solely on neglect and emotional abuse as distinct forms of child maltreatment.

Introductory Works (Encompassing Both Neglect and Emotional Abuse)

The exploration of child neglect and emotional abuse as discrete forms of child maltreatment began receiving increased attention by researchers, child welfare practitioners, and policymakers in the 1990s. This shift fostered a considerable surge in research exploring the distinct trajectories associated with the manifestation of each form of abuse, coupled with an exploration of the convergence in ecological risk conditions and outcomes. Several books provide a foundation for understanding each form of abuse, including neglect and emotional abuse, as well how they frequently co-occur with one another (American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children 2018; Cicchetti and Toth 2005; Institute of Medicine and National Research Council 2014; Feerick, et al. 2006; National Research Council 1993). In addition, Pecora et al. 2019 provides a comprehensive exploration of each type of maltreatment, which further informs the public policy landscape. However, this section is somewhat limited since there are few works that focus specifically on child neglect and emotional abuse. That is, most introductory works focus on all types of maltreatment, rather than on specific subtypes.

  • American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children. 2018. The APSAC handbook on child maltreatment. 4th ed. Los Angeles: SAGE.

    Contains chapters (“Child Neglect,” and “Psychological Maltreatment of Children”) that outline specific subtypes of maltreatment as well as highlight different ecological factors (e.g., poverty) that are influential on their manifestation.

  • Cicchetti, D., and S. Toth. 2005. Annual review of child psychology. Child Maltreatment 1.1: 409–438.

    This article addresses definitional, epidemiological, and etiological aspects of all types of child maltreatment, including a specific focus on child neglect. A developmental psychopathology perspective is directed toward the discussion of the psychological and neurobiological sequelae of child maltreatment.

  • Feerick, M. M., J. F. Knutson, P. K. Trickett, and S. M. Flanzer. 2006. Child abuse and neglect: Definitions, classifications, and a framework for research. Baltimore: Brookes.

    Contains chapters on the complexity of defining child maltreatment and subtypes of distinct forms of abuse. Also provides chapters on specific forms of maltreatment, including child neglect and psychological maltreatment, as well as on research and policy progress and challenges in addressing these topics.

  • Institute of Medicine and National Research Council. 2014. New directions in child abuse and neglect research. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.

    This volume revisits the 1993 report and offers updated suggestions for how research funding and policy interventions can be directed in addressing all types of child maltreatment. This volume examines the uniqueness of neglect and emotional abuse in the context of all types of child maltreatment.

  • National Research Council. 1993. Understanding child abuse and neglect. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.

    This congressionally mandated report was one of the first volumes to comprehensively examine the current (at that time) research landscape on child maltreatment and the need for significantly enhancing the research focus on singular types of abuse and on how they diverge in terms of risks, prevalence, demographics, and outcomes.

  • Pecora, Peter J., James K. Whittaker, Richard P. Barth, Sharon Borja, and William Vesneski. 2019. The child welfare challenge: Policy, practice, and research. New York: Routledge.

    Provides a comprehensive discussion of the state statutes for recognizing, reporting, and intervening in occurrences of neglect and emotional abuse. Also delves into the research on the demographics, risk factors, and outcomes for the subtypes of neglect and emotional maltreatment. Explores the policy solutions for both types of abuse.

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