Does Type of Harm Matter? A Factorial Survey Examining the Influence of Child Neglect on Child Protection Decision- making

Jackie Stokes, Julie Taylor

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Child maltreatment remains a serious social problem, with neglect arguably the most pernicious manifestation. Neglect is characterised by a chronic failure to provide for a child’s basic needs and often co-exists with other forms of maltreatment. It usually occurs in a complex social environment where socio-economic disadvantage is rife and the family experiences numerous concurrent risk factors. The consequences of child neglect are pervasive and profound. However, there is little research on child protection decision-making as it relates to child neglect. The aim of this study was to explore social workers’ decision-making and intervention levels according to type of maltreatment with a particular focus on neglect. The study involved secondary analysis of factorial survey data. Fictitious vignettes (n = 327) with randomly assigned variables were rated by social workers. Multiple regression was used to examine the effect that the type of harm had on decision-making about risk, service provision, home visits and family contact. Social workers responded differently when the harm was child neglect. The respondents attributed a lower level of risk, a less intense service provision and fewer contact hours compared with when the harm was physical abuse or sexual abuse. In conclusion, neglect is the most common form of substantiated maltreatment. Child protection workers responding to vignettes respond to the maltreatment of neglect less intensively despite the preponderance of knowledge about the harmful effects of child neglect. This research indicates that further examination of decision-making in cases of child neglect is warranted.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)383-398
Number of pages17
JournalChild Care in Practice
Issue number4
Early online date5 Jun 2014
Publication statusPublished - 2 Oct 2014


  • Child Neglect
  • Factorial Survey
  • Social Workers
  • Decision-making
  • Child Maltreatment


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