i dream of being possible

on neglect, pt 01

As promised, I”m starting to do my research into neglect as a distinct form of child maltreatment. This book:

Smith, Margaret G., and Rowena Fong. Children of Neglect: When No One Cares. Routledge, 2003. http://www.tandfebooks.com/isbn/9780203493625.

So far is pretty awesome. Focused solely on neglect they also do a litreview in the introduction (which I”m currently reading).

I think the most comforting thing is knowing that I”m not wrong, even in the slightest about the general… invisibility of neglect in abuse culture discourse. I mean, some of the studies with researchers saying that neglect doesn”t get the focus it requires go back to the 70s. That”s like fourty fucking years ago.

Here are some choice insights:

  • In 2000, in the US, of children who died from maltreatment: 34.9% died from neglect only, $27.8% died from abuse only, and 22.2% died from both abuse and neglect. (Smith & Fong 3)
  • there is a stronger correlation between poverty and neglect than abuse and poverty (Smith & Fong 4)
  • Because race and poverty also correlate, it isn”t really possible (bsed on current data) to know if race has any bearing on neglect. (Smith & Fong 5)
  • Neglect is at least as damaging to children as abuse (Smith & Fong 7)
  • However, children who are both neglected and abused are impacted the most. (Smith & Fong 6)
  • “As the demographic statistics and empirical research regarding the effects of neglect on children indicate, neglect is more prevalent than abuse and can result in more serious physical and psychological injury to children. In addition, neglect is just as lethal as abuse.” (Smith & Fong 7)
  • Despite the above, neglect receives not a whole lot of attention from social services, the media, and researchers.
  • the most common reasons attributed for this inattention are: 1) that child maltreatment became an issue via abuse – such that it was thought early on to be the only kind; 2) the strong link with poverty and the, um, clear evidence that our culture has zero interest in doing anything about; 3) that abuse is more dramatic and news-worthy (also easier to spot). (Smith & Fong 7)
  • Despite the evidence, this lack of attention has created a bias/assumption in the field that neglect isn”t as harmful as abuse. (Smith & Fong 8)
  • “This lack of focus on neglect has resulted in a failure to systematically study the underlying causes, conditions, and consequences of neglect as a distinct form of child maltreatment” (Smith & Fong 8)

The lolsob moment of reading this book published in 2003 is that, if my attempts to gather resources to look at for this series of posts, not much has actually changed in the twelve years since this book was written. There is a depressing lack of studies out there. I found five articles that focused solely on neglect published after 2003. Yes, there might be more because I didn”t bring the full weight of my research skills to do a comprehensive review but… I did spend quite a bit of time looking.

I paraphrased and cited at length because a part of me always feels guilty when I say “hey, can we takl neglect too?” because I absolutely do not think that abuse deserves ‘less” attention, just that neglect deserves much, much more than it gets.

The above comparative data aside, I”m not motivated by a desire to demonstrate that neglect is worse than abuse (indeed, the above says that being neglected and abused is the worst). But I do find it… peculiar that neglect is the most common type of child maltreatment but it basically gets no mention (other than some of the really extreme cases that lead to children dying – and not even that often in this case).

Given the world we live in, I”m not surprised that a common form of child maltreatment strongly correlated with poverty (and thus race) isn”t really a priority for government agencies or researchers. It”s pretty clear that we”d really need to do something about povert if we wanted to make a substantive change in the numbers of neglected children. Given how the trajectory of social services that they are continuously reduced, made more difficult to access, and just plain disappearing, it doesn”t look like this situation is going to change any time in the near future.

But. Because of this, I do think it is important that we – insofar as we are not the government, media, or academia – maybe start opening some space and opportunity to talk about this. As I”ve noted before, I find it difficult to articulate my feelings and experiences of neglect because… there isn”t really a common discourse for it. I can fairly easily articulate my experiences of abuse (after I recognize them).

The neglect, though? Much harder. Like… idk, the year (possibly longer) where all I took with me for lunch to school was two slices of bread and water. But why was this neglect? I mean, we were poor. It was neglectful because I never really experienced food insecurity. We were poor, but not quite that kind of poor. This was my ‘lunch” because I was expected to make my own, if I wanted anything else for lunch I had to ask, and because I was like 8 or 10 or something (I think around grade 3 or 4). At that age? Yeah. My dad definitely had an obligation to see that I was actually eating a nutritious diet (within our budgetary constraints).

This was neglect because my dad could”ve done better but didn”t. Which is kind of the threshold for trying to situate your experiences. Because eating nothing but bread and water for lunch (or nothing at all as is the case with some) when you don”t have enough money for food isn”t neglect. It was neglect because the only reason I was eating like this is because my dad didn”t care enough about me (or my health) to ensure that I was eating properly. He had the resources to do better, but chose not to (or didn”t care enough to even try).

And this is a fairly easy example because of the kind of neglect. I can”t even start with the emotional stuff. I just… When I”ve tried in the past, it has become pretty clear to me that most people don”t really understand what I”m trying to communicate re: emotional neglect.

The problem, though, is… (beyond the alexithymia) I can”t really articulate the emotions and feelings that thinking about this causes. Because it isn”t like I really have a singular focal point (like, say the time my dad threw a phonebook at me because I was talking while he was on the phone). It wasn”t one event but a pattern of behaviour. A consistent void in my life.

Because I can”t really analyze my feelings (or find resources to help me get to a point where I can understand my experiences better – this is what happened with me and abuse), I can”t even begin to grasp how this might be impacting me today. Which makes it challenging to try and figure out how to heal and recover.

I don”t really have any solutions. I”m hoping that the other posts in this series (as I continue to read the book) perhaps give me a better idea. Its all so frustrating and disheartening.