Child Neglect: Statutes, Rates, and a Neglect Diversion Model

Kristcha DeGuerre, Jessica Strolin-Goltzman, Katharin Briar-Lawson, Brenda Gooley


Child Neglect: Statutes, Rates, and a Neglect Diversion Model


Introduction: Poverty is a correlate if not a cause of child neglect in the US and worldwide (Slack, 2017; WHO & UNICEF,2021,UN 2021). Definitions of child neglect vary widely and include parental omissions and commissions. The purpose of this manuscript is to examine the extent to which poverty exemptions in state statutes (N=15) actually are correlated with “screened out” neglect cases.  We then undertake a case study of Vermont, the state in the U.S. with the lowest rate of screened in neglect cases, to explore the extent that the state of Vermont can be seen as a “positive outlier.” 

Methods: Using a multi-phase analysis, this article examines US state statutes (2019). Focusing on the 14 states that use poverty and service access qualifiers in their neglect statutes, we compare their neglect rates with states that do not include such qualifiers. We hypothesized that states with poverty exemptions in their statutes would have proportionately fewer neglect cases. The second phase of analysis built off of key informant interviews to help explain findings from phase 1.  

Findings: The findings expose the wide variation in neglect percentages across the nation, ranging from 92.2% to 1.5%. Using Vermont as a case study, with the lowest reported neglect rate and only 18 cases screened in for investigation in 2019, we examine explanations for the wide discrepancies nationally. These include the use of an economic firewall with poverty related cases in Vermont being referred to economic support services instead of a CPS investigation, Family Resource Centers, and Differential Response Systems.

Implications and Conclusions: Differentiating child neglect from poverty, creating a national if not a globally standardized definition of neglect could help to better contextualize neglect rates, create poverty related diversion programs, and address race equity agendas. Finally, we offer recommendations to create more innovative practices to address and divert neglect cases to other systems and services that can more appropriately aid children, parents, and whole families. 


Child welfare; poverty; neglect; abuse

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