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Dimensions of Child Neglect: An

Exploration of Parental Neglect and
Its Relationship with Delinquency
Daniel Maughan

While neglect is generally associated with

poor developmental outcomes, it remains
poorly defined. Factor analysis was applied
to 39 parental behavior variables on data
Simon C. Moore
from the Cambridge Study in Delinquent
Violence & Society Research
Group, Cardi University
Development (CSDD) to explore underlying dimensions of parental behavior that
were consistent with the concept of neglect. Logistic regression assessed associations between the dimensions of neglect
recovered from the CSDD and future adult delinquency.
Factor analysis revealed four dimensions; logistic regression
revealed significant associations between two of these dimensionspoor supervision and a disorganized, chaotic home
environmentand future adult delinquency. Neglect is a
viable construct that can summarize aspects of parental behavior and predict future adult delinquency.
Violence & Society Research
Group, Cardi University

Child Welfare Vol. 89, No. 4


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umerous factors impact on a childs development and future

behavior (Farrington, 1989) with research indicating that
genetic (Caspi, McClay, Moffitt, Mill, Martin, Craig, Taylor, &
Poulton, 2002), cognitive (Van Goozen, Fairchild, Snoek, & Harold,
2007), ecological (Wikstrm & Butterworth, 2006), and parental
(Broidy, Nagin, Tremblay, Bates, Brame, Dodge, Fergusson, Horwood,
Loeber, Laird, Lynam, Mott, Pettit, & Vitaro, 2003) factors all contribute. Classifying factors that contribute toward a childs development oers considerable opportunities to develop interventions and
to identify and proactively address suboptimal developmental trajectories. This article explores the concept of neglect in respect of
parental behaviors that might contribute toward a childs developmental outcome and with specific reference to later adult delinquency.
Neglect, however, is a term that is often used to cover a broad range
of parental behaviors (Zuravin, 1999). One reason for this variability
is that the term is used as a summary description of parent-child
interactions, when such features are often unique and idiosyncratic
(Thompson & Jacobs, 1991). There is some agreement that neglect
is a failure to meet a childs basic needs in such a way that results in
current or future harm, although neglect has also been applied to parenting deficits, community deficits, and even child deficits without
reference to long-term outcome.
There is a dierence, which is also reflected in this article, between
academic- and practitioner-motivated definitions of neglect.
Researchers (e.g., Wolfe & McGee, 1991) suggest that definitions of
neglect should be limited to parent-child interactions, that it should
not be defined according to possible future states, and that researchers
must precisely define and measure parent behaviors independently
of the negative eects on the child, whilst bearing in mind important developmental considerations. Similarly, Kaplan, Johnson, and
Bailey (1987) argue that neglect should be based on parental behaviors alone and that harm to the child does not have to be immediately apparent. Further, Garbarino (1986) suggests that neglect
should be defined as an interaction between aversive parental behaviors and developmental stage, a point reiterated by Coohey (2003),
who further suggests that dierent types of parenting inadequacies


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emerge over time. Neglect can be also be defined as an omission,

which is either harmful to the child or improper, or can refer to
the commission of behavior (Haugaard, 1991). This research-oriented
perspective detaches neglect from future outcomes. On the other
hand, assessment tools that aim to inform practitioners in such a way
as to guide interventions are solely focused on preventing negative
outcomes. While defining neglect with sole reference to parental
behavior might be methodologically correct, it is the link between
neglect and current or later outcomes that motivates practitioner
involvement (Haugaard, 1991). The focus of this paper is to explore
the nature of neglect with specific reference to parental behavior
using a well-established longitudinal data set. In keeping with the
work of both Garbarino and Kaplan etal., the authors first consider
parental behavior without reference to how they might have contributed to a childs subsequent behavior. The authors then consider
how patterns of neglectful behavior influence future development by
looking for associations between neglect and the presence or absence
of later delinquency.
It is common to treat neglect as an umbrella term or typology.
This oers the opportunity to assess how certain behaviors cluster
together in such a way that might reflect similar underlying processes
(Slack, Holl, Altenbernd, McDaniel, & Stevens, 2003). Wolfe and
McGee (1991), for example, grouped parenting behavior into inconsistent parent behavior, psychologically unavailable parenting, emotionally detached parenting, and the absence of positive parental
attention. Gaudin (1993) groups behavior into emotional, physical,
and educational neglect. Further, Manly, Cicchetti, and Barnett
(1994) suggests that physical neglect should be separated into supervisory neglect and failure to provide. A feature of these typologies,
however, is that they emphasize the presence or absence of neglect.
This can be problematic, as research demonstrates that it is more
meaningful, at least when using current child maltreatment typologies to determine future psychological adjustment, to talk about
the degree of maltreatment rather than type (Higgins, 2004).
There exists a case, then, for a typology of neglect that incorporates
variability in intensity across subtypes.

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Studies suggest that neglect is associated with both juvenile and

adult delinquency (West & Farrington, 1973) and that children who
suer neglect are among those who are the most seriously delinquent. To date, the bulk of research linking neglect with delinquency
typically uses data from children who are on child protection registers (Lemmon, 1999; Stouthamer-Loeber, Wei, Homish, & Loeber,
2002; Zingra, Leiter, Meyers, & Johnsen, 1993), problematic as this
makes generalizing to the general population dicult (Chapple,
Tyler, & Bersani, 2005). In this article, the authors consider a sample of children drawn from the local community in our attempt to
associate neglect with later delinquency. The overall aim here is
to inform practitioners and provide results that are more relevant to
everyday practice.

Data was drawn from the Cambridge Study in Delinquent Development (CSDD; Farrington, 1981) conducted by West and Farrington
(1973); a prospective longitudinal survey of 411 males. The CSDD has
been extensively analyzed in studies investigating childhood risk factors for delinquency. For the first time, the authors analyze childhood
risk factors using factor analysis to look for structures amongst parental
behavior data to better understand the dimensionality of neglect.
Initial contact for the CSDD was made with subjects in 1961 and
1962 when children were 8 or 9 years old. The sample was chosen by
taking all boys between 8 and 9 years old who were registered at one
of six state primary schools, the locations of which were within a onemile radius of the research oce in London. This initial sample provided 399 boys, to which a further 12 boys were added who were
recruited from a local school providing services for children with
learning problems. This additional sample was identified so the overall sample more fully reflected the population. The sample was limited to males from a working class urban area due to researchers
expectations that this group was most vulnerable and would therefore facilitate the goal of studying delinquency. Of all respondents,
3% were ethnically black, consistent with the population at that time.

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The boys were interviewed and tested in their schools by psychologists when they were 8, 10, and 14 years old. Social science graduates in the research office interviewed them at 16, 18, 21, and
24 years old. At 18 years old, 389 of the original 411 (94.8%) were
interviewed. Of the 22 youths missing at this age, 1 had died, 1 could
not be traced, 6 were abroad, 10 refused to be interviewed, and, in the
other 4 cases, the parent refused on behalf of the youth.
In parallel to the regular testing, repeated searches were made in
the Central Criminal Record Oce in London to discover data concerning respondents convictions and to therefore establish evidence
of delinquency. Convictions were counted only if they were for oenses
normally recorded in the criminal record oce and were synonymous
with serious or criminal oenses. For example, no convictions for
trac oenses or convictions for less serious oenses such as public
drunkenness or common assault were included. The most common
oenses included were theft, burglary, and unauthorized takings of a
motor vehicle. In a few cases in which information from the boy or
elsewhere did not agree with that in the criminal record oce, the discrepancies were resolved by reference to local police or court records.
Juvenile delinquency was defined as one or more convictions when 10
to 16 years old; adult delinquency was defined as one or more convictions 17 to 24 years old. The data set analyzed for the current article
used data from subjects up to 24 years old, and therefore, the authors
use adult delinquency as the dependent variable.
The bulk of the data in the CSDD was derived from interviews.
The boys parents provided information about such things as family
income and size. The boys provided information on their job histories and leisure habits, such as spending time hanging about, drinking, and their level of sexual activity. Ratings were obtained from
the boys teachers about dicult and aggressive behavior in school,
truancy, and school attainment. Ratings were also obtained from
the boys peers when they were in their primary schools, about such
things as any disruptive behavior, daring, honesty, and popularity.
Psychological tests and self-report questionnaires were given to the
boys and parents, with questionnaires filled in by the parents providing information about their child-rearing attitudes.

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Using the CSDD has several advantages. First, it is longitudinal,

allowing early association between early childhood experience and
later outcomes to be determined. Second, the CSDD triangulates
data sources, using parent, child, and observer reports, to provide an
accurate picture of early childhood circumstances. However, it should
be noted that the nature of the CSDD means that measures used to
determine child neglect exclude more serious forms of neglect such
as withholding food or water. The current research used exploratory
factor analysis to determine underlying dimensions of neglect in the
CSDD (Knol & Berger, 1991). Variables entered into this analysis
were informed from the literature and are presented in Table 1; data
entered into analyses were in the form made available in the dataset.

Principal factors analysis was used with a varimax rotation to examine dimensions of parenting behavior variables and initially run with
all 39 identified parent behavior variables. Table 2 (page 56) presents
the four retained factors together with variables with factor loadings
greater than 0.5.
Factor scores were calculated for each factor by summing the raw
dimension scores with weights that were proportional to their factor
loadings. Logistic regression was performed comparing the four factors to the presence of adult delinquency while controlling for confounding variables, these included poverty (Brown, Cohen, Johnson,
& Salzinger, 1998; Chan, Kelleher, & Hollenberg, 1996; Drake &
Pandey, 1996; Jones & McCurdy, 1992; Lee & Goerge, 1999; Sedlack,
1995), age (Brown etal., 1998; Chan etal., 1996; Jones & McCurdy,
1992; Lee & Goerge, 1999), ethnic origin (Chan etal., 1996; Jones
& McCurdy, 1992; Lee & Goerge, 1999), socioeconomic status
(Brown etal., 1998; Sedlack, 1995), and verbal IQ (Brown etal., 1998).
Factor 1 has its highest loadings on items relating to separation,
both temporarily and permanently, from parents. This factor is named
parental separations. Variables used in this factors definition
included significant separation from natural or operative parent if
lasting longer than one month.

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Table 1
Variable Definitions and CSDD Variable Label

Background unhappiness of
Background unhappiness of
Father educated to higher level
Father has received special
Mother educated to higher level
Family size
Family sizeovercrowding

Housing care of interior

very neglected
Father interested in children
Parents interested in childs
Physical neglect of boy present
Boy praised by parents
Broken home before age 10 by
death or other reasons
Separation from parents up to
age 5
Separation from parents up to
age 10
Temporary separation from
parents up to 5
Temporary separation from
parents up to 10









Number of other siblings V69
3 or more rooms than
2 or more rooms than
Same number or more
than one more room
than children
Fewer rooms than children


Very interested
Not interested












Continued on next page


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Table 1 cont.
Poor attitude of father
Poor attitude of mother
Boys leisure questionnaire
(BLQ): Frequency of
BLQ: Father joins in


BLQ: Spends leisure time

mostly at home


BLQ: Has outside companionship


Disagreement between parents


Housing: Neglected interior

Nonloving maternal attitude
Nervous father


Nervous mother


Negative paternal attitude

Underconcerned mother


Poor parental supervision





Never (also for no
All year round
Winter only
Low average
High average

Moderately nervous
Low average
High average
Low average
High average










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Table 1 cont.
Teacher rating: Below average
cleanliness and tidiness
Teacher rating: Regular
attendee at school
Marriage of parents







Parental attitude toward

girl friends


Parental approval of boy


Clean and tidy
Below average



Low average
High average
Strong disapproval
Very pleased
Pleased on the whole






Factor 2 has its highest loadings on items depicting state of the

home environment. At one pole it depicts an environment of chaos
and uncleanliness, at the other pole it depicts a clean, well-organized home environment. This factor seems to identify a form of
household organization and is named disorganized, chaotic.
Variables included in this factor included family size (number of
children surviving 3 months or more, born to boys mother up to
his 10th birthday, maternal half siblings counted but not paternal
half siblings, stepsiblings, or foster siblings); overcrowding (number of children vs. rooms in house); housing (care of interior, scored
as satisfactory or very neglected, defined as neglect of the interior
by the occupants as dirty, very dirty, very untidy, or other evidence

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Table 2
Variables and Factor Loadings
Rotated Factor Loadings
Variable (CSDD code)
Separations up to 5 years from parents
Separations before 10 years from parents
Temporary separations from parents up
to 5 years (V150)
Temporary separations from parents
before 10 years (V153)
Family size (V69)
Family sizeovercrowding (V73)
Housingcare of interior (8 to 9 years)
Physical neglect of boy (V123)
Housingcare of interior (10 to 11 years)
Attitude of father combined (V178)
Disagreement between parents (V196)
Marriage of parents combined (V307)
BLQ home (V186)
BLQ outside companionship (V187)



of gross carelessness), physical neglect of the boy (scored as neglect

absent or neglect present and defined as noticeable neglect of childs
clothing, hygiene, or food either at time of intake or previously)
scored at age 8 to 9 years. Data for these variables were obtained
from self-report questionnaires.
Factor 3 has its highest loadings on items depicting the propensity of the father to be absent or disinterested in forming a relationship with his child and on items depicting the presence of an
unstable relationship between the parents. This factor is named
marital harmony and father involvement. Three variables included
in this factor include the attitude of father (combining of paternal

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attitude [warm, passive, neglecting, or cruel], discipline quality of

father [normal, spoilt, disinterested, or harsh], and discipline of
father [normal, lax, strict, erratic, or very strict] scored at age 8 to 9
years). The second variable in this factor is the disagreement
between parents (combining marriage of parents [satisfactory or
disharmonious], inconsistency between parents [no inconsistency
or inconsistency, defined as sufficient to be confusing to the child
or to permit him to play off one parent against the other, or to avoid
conforming with either, rated not inconsistent if parents put up a
united front before the child in spite of disagreement between
themselves], and dominance of parents in family [mutual dominance or mother or father dominant], all scored at 8 to 9 years). The
third variable in this factor is the marriage of parent combined
(scored as goodharmonious, happy marriage, no more than occasional upsets or disagreements; satisfactorysome degree of conflict; badchronic tension, disagreements in many fields, raging
conflicts, or completely estranged) again scored at age 8 to 9 years.
Data for these variables were obtained from self-report questionnaires and psychological tests.
Factor 4 has its highest loadings on items that describe leisure
time, in and out of the home environment. In contrast to Factor 1,
this factor involves a description of time spent in the home environment, whereas Factor 1 involves variables that measure the time parents spend away from the home environment. This fourth factor
draws on variables describing how each boy used his leisure time and
was informed by responses to a questionnaire that was administered
to mothers by interviewers when boys were aged 12 to 13. Scoring is
based on how frequently the boy went on trips, to matches, to the
cinema, and to clubs; played sports; and visited friends homes. The
authors named this factor parental supervision.
Table 3 presents the regression of Factors 1 through 4, with controls, on adult delinquency. This model suggests that the disorganized,
chaotic factor and the parental supervision factor are significantly associated with adult delinquency. No significant relationship between
adult delinquency and the control factors were noted.


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Table 3
Logistic Regression Model with Adult Delinquency as the Dependent Variable and
the Four Identified Dimensions of Neglect with Control Variables as Independent

Factor/Control Variable
Factor 1: Parental
Factor 2: Disorganized,
Factor 3: Marital harmony
and father involvement
Factor 4: Parental
V47 (Background poverty
of father)
V48 (Background poverty
of mother)
V43 (Age of father)
V44 (Age of mother)
V131 (Ethnic origin of boy)
V272 (Socioeconomic
V283 (Verbal IQ combined)




P (z)










































Number of observations 263

LR 2(12) 38.49, p 0.0001
Log likelihood 124.386
Pseudo R2 0.134

This studys purpose was to investigate structures amongst parenting behaviors in an attempt to gain a realistic insight into the dimensions that constitute neglect. In this study, the authors explored the
neglect concept without referring to presence or absence of future
states to construct those definitions. The authors then considered the
relationship between the dimensions of neglect and future adult

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delinquency. The eects of neglect on future outcomes are likely to

be many with delinquency at the more serious end of the outcome
spectrum. Four factors were sucient to explain a significant proportion of the variance in the underlying data. These were labeled
parental separations; disorganized, chaotic; marital harmony and
father involvement; and parental supervision; these labels were
derived from the variables each factor summarized. These factors do
not represent subtypes, but rather reflect the communality of variance between the variables within each factor, thus allowing patterns
of neglecting behavior occurring within families to be exposed.
Ideally, risk factors should be seen, not as individual indicators or
causes of neglect, but as grouped entities that explain patterns of
behaviors that occur in neglecting families. If patterns of behavior
that represent real-life scenarios within neglecting families are tackled, significant results may be more readily achievable and interventions arguably more fruitful.
The parental supervision factor has a good foundation in the literature and has also been used by community health practitioners
(Lewin & Herron, 2007). This factor was significantly associated with
adult delinquency. The Ontario Child Neglect Index (Trocme, 1996)
states, Specific types of harm may result from failure to supervise;
[including] criminal activity. This pattern of activity is damaging to
the boy for two reasons. First, as suggested by Hirschi (1969, p. 90),
the child is more likely to obey his parents if he shares his activities
with them, and when he does not he will have increased exposure to
negative peer pressures. Research has found that inconsistent parenting is also related to poor self-control (Gibbs, Geiver, & Martin, 1998)
and that weak discipline and poor monitoring can inhibit the development of self-control (Hope, Grasmick, & Pointon, 2003; Unnever,
Cullen, & Pratt, 2003). It is argued here that parental supervision, or
lack of, is a form of neglect that can also promote later delinquency.
The disorganized, chaotic factor revealed here is consistent with
definitions of neglect in the Barnett, Miller-Perin, and Perrin (1997)
review, and with Gaudin, Polansky, Kilpatrick, and Shilton (1996) who
posited a chaotic, leaderless type of neglectful family. This factor was
also found to be significantly associated with adult delinquency;

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Bolger, Patterson, and Kupersmidt (1998) demonstrated that a chaotic

and dirty home environment may contribute to a lack of friends
among these neglected children, and further evidence suggests that
diculties in establishing and maintaining pro-social peer networks
is associated with an increased risk of later delinquency (DeMuth,
2004; DePaul & Arruabarrena, 1995). The parental separation factor
also represents a lack of parental supervision, but also a degree of emotional inadequacy, as Wark, Kruczek, and Boley (2003) state,
Emotional neglect is characterized by low levels of expressed aection . . . described more often in family systems lacking cohesiveness. . . Rohner (1986) argued that the parent-child relationship, if
characterized by long periods of separation, can be damaged. The marital harmony and father involvement factor has grouped two previously recognized risk factors together; parental conflict and an absent
or less involved father (Brown etal., 1998; Connell-Carrick, 2003;
Gaudin, 1993; Hart & Brassard, 1987). This association is novel in
respect of the neglect literature. These latter two factors were not significantly associated with delinquency, but this does not necessarily
diminish their descriptive significance and further research involving
more varied outcomes might consider their impact.
This study demonstrates an association between neglect and later
delinquency. For practitioners, decisions concerning referral to social
services are problematic (Howarth, 2007), but can be assisted through
continued research and developing the evidence base. Many studies
have shown that addressing environmental factors using family-based
prevention studies can reduce future oending (Farrington, 2002;
Patterson, 1995; Scott, Spender, Doolan, Jacobs, & Aspland, 2001).
For example, a two-year program targeting parenting skills and
addressing poor social skills of disruptive children, significantly
reduced the likelihood of physical aggression in adulthood (Lacourse,
Cote, Nagin, Tremblat, Vitaro, & Brendgen, 2002). While in general
terms interventions can be eective, understanding those types of
behaviors that are most strongly associated with negative outcomes
would allow a far more ecient use of resources. Furthermore, Alvarez
(2004) suggests that the true extent of child neglect is underestimated
as professionals often fail to report it. The authors suggest here that

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more exacting definitions of neglect might oer greater conceptual

clarity and therefore improve the opportunities to report and in turn
improve opportunities to evaluate how the targeted use of resources
can reduce the eect of neglect on later outcomes.
While proving an important insight in the nature of neglect and
its relationship with future delinquency, there are weakness in the
current study. As with all longitudinal studies that consider the relationship between early childhood and adult behavior, it is necessary
to wait until respondents are adults. This means, however, that the
issues surrounding respondents childhoods might not reflect the
issues of children today. Further, the current study drew from a
dataset that was focused on male children of lower socioeconomic
status, as this was the most salient group when the project was implemented. While men are still more likely to become engaged in criminal trajectories compared to women, it does limit our ability to
generalize to the wider population. This study does, however, contribute to an area of research on neglect that still receives very little
interest, despite the potentially serious outcomes that neglect might
contribute to.

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