Do children unintentionally report maltreatment? Comparison of disclosures of neglect versus sexual abuse

Jennifer Lavoie, Shanna Williams, Thomas D Lyon, Jodi A Quas

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Background and aims: Children's initial reports often play a key role in the identification of maltreatment, and a sizeable amount of scientific research has examined how children disclose sexual and physical abuse. Although neglect constitutes a large proportion of maltreatment experiences, relatively little attention has been directed toward understanding whether and how children disclose neglect. The overarching aim of the present study was to document this process by comparing disclosure patterns in cases of neglect to those in cases of sexual abuse. Method: Redacted jurisdiction reports (N = 136) of substantiated dependency cases of neglect (n = 71) and sexual abuse (n = 65) in 4- to 17-year-olds were coded for why maltreatment was suspected, and for children's perceived awareness and disclosure of the maltreatment. Results: Neglect was most often initially suspected via contact with emergency services (e.g., police, emergency medical services), whereas sexual abuse was most often initially suspected as a result of children's statements. Children evidenced greater perceived awareness of sexual abuse than neglect and were more likely to disclose the former in their first investigative interview. Perceived awareness was further associated with a higher likelihood of children's statements initiating discovery of maltreatment and disclosing in the first investigative interview. Conclusions: Children may benefit from greater knowledge about their needs for safety, supervision, and provision in the home, which could increase the likelihood they would disclose neglect. Such, in turn, could lead to earlier interventions for children and families.

Original languageEnglish
Article number105824
JournalChild Abuse and Neglect
Early online date12 Aug 2022
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 12 Aug 2022

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • awareness
  • child maltreatment
  • disclosure
  • investigative interviewing


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