Tackling the 'normalisation of neglect': Messages from child protection reviews in England

Julie Taylor, Jonathan Dickens, Joanna Garstang, Laura Cook, Nutmeg Hallett, Eleanor Malloy

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Despite a history of critique, concentrated discussion and improved assessment processes, neglect continues to be a major challenge for child protection services. This paper draws on findings from a government-commissioned analysis of ‘serious case reviews’ (SCRs) in England, arising from incidents of serious child abuse in 2017–2019. There were 235 cases, for which 166 final reports were available. Alongside a quantitative analysis of the whole cohort, we undertook an in-depth qualitative analysis of 12 cases involving neglect. A key challenge in responding to neglect in its different forms is that it can be so widespread amongst families that practitioners no longer notice its severity or chronicity – it becomes normalised. In this paper we explore two dimensions of the ‘paradox of neglect’ where it seems to be everywhere and nowhere simultaneously. The first is that neglect is so closely bound up with the prevalence of poverty that little action is taken to address it. The second is that the overwhelming nature of neglect can blind practitioners to other forms of maltreatment that may also be present within a family. Practitioners, now more than ever, need to recognise the dimensions of this paradox to protect children from neglect.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2841
JournalChild Abuse Review
Issue number1
Early online date12 Jul 2023
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2024


  • child protection
  • cultural relativism
  • local child safeguarding practice reviews
  • neglect
  • poverty
  • serious case reviews

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