Recognising and responding to child neglect in New Zealand

Recognising and responding to child neglect in New…
02 Dec 2010
Recognising and responding to child neglect in New…
06 Dec 2010

This report presents research findings on the neglect of children from birth to five years. The report is in two parts. Part A represents the findings from 22 interviews with workers from the health, social services and education sectors. Part B summarises a literature review of national and international evidence.


The aim of the research was to help inform wider policy work on preventing child maltreatment.

Key Results

Few of those interviewed referred to a definition of neglect, possibly reflecting the absence of official agency definitions of child neglect.

  • However interviewees understanding of neglect closely aligned with definitions in the research literature. Physical and emotional neglect were the sub-types of neglect most frequently referred to. Different parenting practices across social-cultural contexts were felt to contribute to the subjective nature of neglect possibly contributing to the difficulty in arriving at a common definition.

The compounding effects of different factors and stressors that can lead to child neglect were noted.

  • Drug and alcohol abuse and maternal post-natal depression were particularly commented on, as well as inadequate parenting transmitted through poor parenting practices across the generations.

Workers in early childhood education centers and Plunket were seen to be well positioned to observe potential neglect.

  • These workers were seen as well placed to observe children and their interactions with parents. Some interviewees commented on the effects of class on recognising child neglect, with children from upper or middle class homes seen as less likely to have neglect identified and responded to.

Most interviewees saw their agency’s role as assisting in the prevention of neglect and referring families to other services when neglect was suspected.

  • By referring families their agencies were seeking to prevent neglect by addressing risk factors associated with neglect and responding to harmful effects on children when neglect was thought to have occurred.

Aspects that were seen to be working well in preventing and responding to child abuse were:

  • strong relationships between workers and the family
  • well trained staff
  • databases that hold useful information
  • home visiting programmes
  • mechanisms to assist families connect with services

Ways to improve response suggested by these interviewees included:The review found no common or agreed definition of child neglect.

  • publicity campaigns focusing on child neglect
  • more resourcing of maternal and child health services
  • better training on child neglect
  • reducing child poverty
  • improving work-life balance
  • changing attitudes to parenting.
Page last modified: 11 Jul 2023