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April 2005Vol. 6, No. 3Defining and Measuring Child Neglect

Conceptualizing child neglect can be a complex undertaking. Child neglect encompasses an array of behaviors that represent an omission of care rather than abusive actions, and many definitions also incorporate statutory, clinical, and research contexts. In a recent commentary, researchers M. A. Straus and G. Kaufman Kantor offer their own definition of child neglect that is intended for empirical research on the etiology and consequences of neglectful behavior by a caregiver. According to this definition, neglect is a failure to act in ways that are presumed by a culture to be necessary to meet the needs of the child and that are considered to be the responsibility of the caregiver to provide.

The authors provide a conceptual analysis of their definition of neglect and identify principles, criteria, and problems in creating measures of neglect. Some of the principles and criteria discussed include:

  • Measuring neglectful behavior separately from harm
  • Measuring neglectful behavior separately from causes and motives
  • Providing multiple perspectives and subscales for dimensions of neglectful behavior
  • Distinguishing the child's appraisal of neglectful behavior from actual neglectful behavior
  • Identifying the level of severity and chronicity

The authors hope that the principles and criteria that they provide can be used as a checklist to aid in selecting instruments for research, to examine an existing instrument to determine if there is a need for modification, or to guide in the creation of new instruments to measure neglect. The issues of reliability and validity of instruments are also discussed.

The complete article, "Definition and Measurement of Neglectful Behavior: Some Principles and Guidelines," was published in the January 2005 issue of Child Abuse and Neglect. It is available at (PDF - 259 KB).