Neglect is also an important factor leading to child death and was highlighted in the high-profile cases of Victoria Climbie (Laming 2003) and Danial Pelka. In Daniels case, weight loss, the stealing of food and how Daniel was withdrawn and showing little interaction with other children was all noticed by school staff, yet the school failed to keep accurate records and did not collectively, nor coherently generate their concerns into a child protection referral.
Subsequently, leading Daniel to become an ‘invisible child’ and ultimately leading to his death (SSCB 2013). This again highlights the difficulty in the ability to define the boundaries of what constitutes as neglect, making it difficult to spot. In Daniels case, it was likely put down to a case of ‘lazy parenting’ rather than neglectful parenting, whilst his lack of interaction with others was put down to Daniel’s minimal ability to speak English (Hall 2013). In reality, his passive, withdrawn nature in the school setting, was likely due to emotional neglect at home.
Daniel was therefore let down by these members of staff, as it can be said that they failed in their duty under section 11 of the Children Act 2004 to ensure that they consider the need to safeguard and promote the welfare of children when carrying out their functions and under section 10 of the same act whereby, agencies are required to cooperate with local authorities effectively at all levels (HM Government 2015). What the Daniel Pelka case reinforces is how the ability to spot early signs of neglect in a child, can at times be very difficult.
This is especially true if the child is very young, or if the forms of neglect have not yet become long-term, therefore, the child may not yet show obvious symptoms. It is due to this that it is often required to look beyond the child in question, and instead at the home environment and the parents themselves for early signs or triggers for neglect. A neglectful parent can often be a well-intentioned yet inadequate one, that simply cannot meet the child’s demands despite all their efforts.
This could be tied to the parent simply been over stressed due to a lack of social and professional support, a mild learning disability or health issues in either child or mother, or it could be due to experiencing poor parenting themselves, making them unable to form strong attachments, subsequently, unaware of what constitutes as sufficient caregiving (Barker and Hodes 2007). These individuals very often, with correct support can overcome their problems and go on to become good parents. This help does, however, need to be provided quickly, with early intervention before the mild problem progress into more serious territory.
As the Working Together to Safeguard Children Strategy states “providing early help is more effective in promoting the welfare of children than reacting later. Early help means providing support as soon as a problem emerges” (HM Government 2015:12). More often than not, however, due to the mildness and lack of clear visible symptoms of these early signs of neglect, these emerging problems go unidentified, subsequently, these families continue to struggle under the radar, leading to further problems arising. On the other end of the spectrum, you will encounter the completely detached, disinterested and indifferent parent.
This form of parenting very often entails disorganised neglect, erratic caregiving, lack of physical care, non-existent emotional responsiveness and the absence of structure and control (Barker & Hodes 2007). Here the problems are often multifaceted, care given is erratic and dominated by chaos and continual crises (Barker & Hodes 2007). Neglect often involves lack of physical care, limited or non-existent emotional attachment and a substantial lack of structure, supervision, and control. This can lead to a deprivation of basic requirements such as food, warmth, and adequate shelter.
This form of neglect is rarely expressed through a single incident, and it is likely that a family such as this is already in the child protection system. The neglect is often chronic and resulted from a culmination of long-term factors. This culmination of factors is often categorised as the ‘toxic trio’. This term as the Department of Health states “describe the issues of domestic violence, mental ill-health and substance misuse which have been identified as common features of families where harm to women and children has occurred.
They are viewed as indicators of increased risk of harm and neglect to children and young people. ” (2014: 4). Work in this area has shown that there is a large overlap between these parental risk factors and cases of child death, serious injury and generally poorer outcomes for children across all ages (Brandon et al, 2008). As the serious case review by Hall (2013) shows, all of these risk factors were present in the case of Daniel Pelka. Statistics suggest that Daniels case is by no means a rarity.
1,796,244 children in England live in households where there is a risk of domestic violence. 50,000 to 978,000 children have a parent who misuses drugs, and more than 2 million children are affected by parental mental ill-health (Jutte, S. et al 2015). Statistics also suggests a strong comorbidity of these problems. As this report undertaken by the Co-ordinated Action Against Domestic Abuse shows “a clear co-occurrence between the ‘toxic trio’ risk factors of domestic abuse, substance misuse (alcohol and/or drugs) and parental mental ill health. Nearly a third of mothers (31%) and a third of fathers (32%) in these families experiencing domestic abuse disclosed either mental health problems, substance misuse, or both. (CAADA 2014).
Again this is no rarity, an Ofsted report, Learning Lessons from Serious Case Reviews 2009–2010, found nearly ? of children in England and Wales lived in families where two or more of these issues were present (Ofsted 2010). There is a considerable amount of research that shows children who grow up in households where there is domestic violence, substance misuse and mental health issues are in the highest risk category, not only for neglect but serious harm (Cleaver et al 2007). Neglectful parents with one or more of these impacting factors are generally pre-occupied with their own unmet needs and problems.
It is therefore common in these situations for parent to come dependent on their children for emotional support. This creates a role reversal, which could have considerable consequences for child/Parent attachment patterns (Bancroft et al 2004). Not only is this an underlying feature of neglect a problem for those within the family, but also very problematic for professional networks (Barker & Hodes 2007). The parents can make huge demands for practical and emotional support. This can be overwhelming, consequently, professionals involved can feel a similar sense of helplessness in the face of problems that seem insurmountable (Cleaver 2007).
The major concern here is that this can divert attention from the children involved and obscure their needs. Baker & Hodes provide an example of this “if only social services sorted out my housing problems everything would be okay” is one example of a ploy that often succeeds in deflecting concerns being raised by professionals, however, while the resolution of a housing problem…may help in the short term, it will neither compensate for a severely depriving environment or parent who is chronically neglecting the child” (2007:46).
So although, matters such as housing should be addressed in line with common assessment framework (CWDC 2008) It needs to be ensured that it is in the best interest of the child’s wellbeing and not overriding attention that should be spent ensuring their safety.