Childhood Neglect and the Effect on Adolescents

Childhood Neglect: Importance to Social Work Profession

Childhood neglect affects adolescents that social workers engage with on a daily basis. Childhood neglect is the most prevalent form of child abuse in the United States (Duprey, Oshri, & Caughy, 2017). Since neglect is the most common form of abuse, it largely impacts the social work profession because many children and adolescents experience a form of neglect and need professional help. Neglect can lead to many negative behaviors that affect adolescents and their families, including, but not limited to, substance abuse, binge drinking, and smoking marijuana and tobacco (Duprey, Oshri, & Caughy, 2017). Social workers in mental health agencies, schools, residential treatment centers, and plenty of other agencies work with adolescents who are experiencing substance abuse, drug and alcohol dependence, and addiction. This means that the study of childhood neglect and past experiences of youth is important for the social work profession.

Neglect can lead to the internalization of emotions and responses to childhood neglect, which leads to negative behaviors. According to the research of Duprey, Oshri, and Caughy (2017), internalization and the developmental timing of adverse childhood experiences impacts socioemotional outcomes in adolescents and leads to risky behaviors. Youth who experienced neglect before the sixth grade have a higher chance of binge drinking as an adolescent. They also have a higher chance of smoking more marijuana and tobacco than adolescents who did not experience neglect as a child (Duprey, Oshri, & Caughy, 2017). Substance abuse and neglect lead to depression in adolescents. The article states that adolescents who experienced neglect as a young child are 1.74 times more likely to be depressed than adolescents who did not experience neglect (Duprey, Oshri, & Caughy, 2017). The social work profession focuses greatly on mental health, so understanding neglect during childhood is important for social workers.

Childhood Neglect as a Significant Social Problem

Childhood neglect is a significant social problem in the United States that affects many adolescents and their development. As stated in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence, child neglect is defined as a type of maltreatment that impacts the socioemotional adjustment of youth and can lead them to engage and participate in risky behaviors (Duprey, Oshri, & Caughy, 2017). According to the journal, studies show that preschoolers who were physically abused exhibited externalizing behaviors, including aggression and bullying. Preschoolers who experienced neglect showed internalizing behaviors, such as being withdrawn, quiet, or having concentration problems (Duprey, Oshri, & Caughy, 2017). These behaviors in young children predict substance abuse in adolescence as a way to cope with depressive symptoms from what they experienced as children (Duprey, Oshri, & Caughy, 2017). Childhood neglect is important for social workers to understand because of how it affects the children of America. One of the social work professional values is, “social workers challenge social injustice” (National Association of Social Workers, 2017), meaning social workers should strive to help the children in America who are suffering from neglect to prevent any future negative outcomes in that adolescent.

Childhood neglect is a significant issue in the United States and around the world because it causes negative outcomes in adolescents that will affect them as future adults in society. Some of these outcomes include psychopathology, cognitive deficits, and behavioral problems (Duprey, Oshri, & Caughy, 2017). These outcomes are important because they predict depression, learning problems and delays, and behavioral issues in the adolescents future. Preventing childhood neglect and educating parents could allow social workers to enhance the lives of children across the globe. According to research by Fontaine and Nolin (2012) published in a Canadian journal, neglect occurs when parents do not respond to the basic physical, educational, and health needs, for their children to lead positive lives (Fontaine & Nolin, 2012). This fact shows that childhood neglect is not only occurring in the United States, it is also occurring in other countries.

Childhood Neglect Etiology

Research by Fontaine and Nolin (2012) states that parents who neglect children are immature, egocentric, impulsive, have problems controlling their violence, have substance abuse issues, are in unstable marriages, and have a presence of minor criminal activities (Fontaine & Nolin, 2012). These characteristics in parents who neglect their children have a large impact on the newer generations in society and the social work profession. The study also shows that these types of parents come from neglectful and abusive backgrounds, causing these parents to not be able to meet the needs of their own children because of their past experiences (Fontaine & Nolin, 2012). This fact shows that childhood neglect is a part of a larger cycle that has a higher likelihood of occurring if, as a child, neglect was experienced. In the study conducted by Fontaine and Nolin (2012), risk factors and problems were found with parents who neglect their children. These risk factors include failings in parental attitude, problems managing stress, depression, a lower reaction threshold, and low self-esteem (Fontaine & Nolin, 2012). These risk factors then led to the discovery that parents who neglected their children compared to parents who did not neglect their children showed a higher tendency to have a personality disorder (Fontaine & Nolin, 2012).

According to the study done by Finzi-Dottan & Harel (2014), another cause of child neglect is parents who experienced neglect and abuse as children had higher levels of stress and a greater chance of being a perpetrator. These parents also view parenthood as a threat to their lives, causing them to neglect and abuse their children. Parents who experienced neglect in their childhood have a higher abuse and neglect potential than other individuals who did not experience any form of neglect or abuse as a child (Finzi-Dottan & Harel, 2014). This statement shows that childhood neglect could be caused by parents who also experienced neglect and abuse as children. This research also shows that parents with high levels of stress who do not have the appropriate coping mechanisms have a higher chance of believing their children are threatening to them, causing them to neglect their child.

According to Finzi-Dottan & Harel (2014), children who experienced being ignored and rejected during young childhood could model those experiences for their children. These behaviors learned through observation and imitation effect later parental behaviors, leading to abuse and neglect (Finzi-Dottan & Harel, 2014). The study also shows that emotional control and appraised stress have an impact on parenting (Finzi-Dottan & Harel, 2014). These factors leading to childhood neglect are issues that have a huge impact on society. If children are not safe and cared for by parents and guardians, they could end up neglecting their children as well, because of modeled behaviors from their own upbringing.

According to a research article published by Romero-Martínez, Figueiredo, & Moya-Albiol (2014), the gender of the parent might have an impact on childhood neglect. The study states that gender could have an impact on neglect and abuse because mothers are more impacted by neglect and abuse that they experienced during their own childhood (Romero-Martínez, Figueiredo, & Moya-Albiol, 2014). Since mothers are more affected by these issues, this affects their perceived relationships with their children, leading to future neglect because of poor perceived relationships and insecure attachments (Romero-Martínez, Figueiredo, & Moya-Albiol, 2014). This study, published by the Child Abuse & Neglect Journal, states that mothers and fathers who were continuously victims of maltreatment as children had a higher chance of being perpetrators of abuse, regarding neglect as a form of abuse (Romero-Martínez, Figueiredo, & Moya-Albiol, 2014). According to the New York State Office of Children and Family Services, some types of maltreatment include parents failing to provide minimum care for their children in relation to food, shelter, education, and medical care. Maltreatment can also include parents not supervising their children, abandoning them, or using and abusing substances around children (Office of Children and Family Services, n.d.). The study also shows that, for mothers, education level was an indicator of abuse and neglect with their children (Romero-Martínez, Figueiredo, & Moya-Albiol, 2014).

The research completed by Romero-Martínez, Figueiredo, & Moya-Albiol (2014), also mentions age being a factor with the issue of child neglect. This study found that fathers who were maltreated before the age of thirteen were more likely to be perpetrators of abuse and neglect than fathers who were maltreated after age thirteen (Romero-Martínez, Figueiredo, & Moya-Albiol, 2014). For mothers, however, if they were maltreated by their parents after age thirteen, they were more likely to be perpetrators of abuse and neglect than mothers who were maltreated before age thirteen (Romero-Martínez, Figueiredo, & Moya-Albiol, 2014). Research shows that parents who were neglected and maltreated in their childhood years are more likely to neglect their own children.


Duprey, E., Oshri, A., & Caughy, M. (2017). Childhood Neglect, Internalizing Symptoms and Adolescent Substance Use: Does the Neighborhood Context Matter? Journal of Youth & Adolescence, 46(7), 1582–1597. https://doi-org.proxy.library.stonybrook. edu/10.1007/s10964-017-0672-x

Finzi-Dottan, R., & Harel, G. (2014). Parents’ Potential for Child Abuse: An Intergenerational Perspective. Journal of Family Violence, 29(4), 397–408.

Fontaine, D., & Nolin, P. (2012). Personality Disorders in a Sample of Parents Accused of Physical Abuse or Neglect. Journal of Family Violence, 27(1), 23–31.

National Association of Social Workers. (2017). Read the Code of Ethics. Retrieved from

Office of Children and Family Services. (n.d.). Definitions of child abuse and maltreatment. Retrieved from

Romero-Martínez, A., Figueiredo, B., & Moya-Albiol, L. (2014). Childhood history of abuse and child abuse potential: The role of parent’s gender and timing of childhood abuse. Child Abuse & Neglect, 38(3), 510–516. https://doi-org.proxy.library.Stonybrook


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