Working with neglected children and their families

Turney, Danielle and Tanner, Karen (2001). Working with neglected children and their families. Journal of Social Work Practice, 15(2) pp. 193–204.



Child neglect has proved a particularly difficult area for social work to address. In the first part of the paper a number of reasons for this are discussed. We go on to suggest that chronic child neglect characteristically involves the breakdown or absence of a relationship of care. Therefore, the social work response needs to include a focus on the relationship difficulties between parent and child which manifest as either an unwillingness or inability on the part of the primary carer to offer reliable, adequate care, and on broader relationship difficulties within the family. In arguing for an approach that pays attention to the intra-personal and relational dynamics of neglect, we draw specifically on attachment theory and consider how Ainsworth’s (1978) typology of attachment patterns can shed light on parenting styles and patterns of family functioning associated with chronic neglect. We use the concept of the “internal working model” to develop an understanding of the ways in which family members understand and live out their relationships - with each other and with the worker. We conclude by suggesting that this relational approach requires an ability on the part of the social worker to work both with and within relationships, and look at the contribution that a critically informed relationship-based approach can make to work with families where child neglect occurs.

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