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What is child neglect? And how well do our response programs work?

A young child looks on as an adult man is passed out with a bottle of alcohol in his hand.

A University at Buffalo researcher has a federal grant to study child neglect, working with university biostatistics experts and other schools, as it's not always easy to define what is child neglect.

Social work researcher Patricia Logan-Greene is working with UB Professor and Chair Gregory Wilding from the Biostatistics Department in the School of Public Health and Health Professions and Social Work Associate Professor JoAnn Lee from George Mason University.

Logan-Greene said a key goal is to decide if the programs aimed at helping families said to neglect their children actually work. There are a lot of different services that may be given to families, everything from emergency child care or jobs coaching benefits to counseling or temporary placement for the children, such as foster care.

She said there is a lot of bias in the system.

Patricia Logan-Greene is wearing a brown sweater and a long braid in her brown hair.
University at Buffalo
Patricia Logan-Greene is leading the University at Buffalo study on child neglect.

"A lot of bias of reporting and certainly bias as well as the determination of what is and is not neglect by the professionals, because there are a lot of judgement calls that go into that. Now there are some states — New York's not one of them — that explicitly define neglect as being separate from problems of poverty," Logan-Greene said.

She said it's all difficult, because every state has different definitions of neglect and some don't like to rule neglect when you have a family in poverty. At the same time, she said neglect isn't always an issue of a family in poverty, since there are varying ideas of neglect and those have changed over time.

But neglect and income are often related.

"Certainly, more likely with families who struggle with poverty, for obvious reasons, because they have fewer resources," Logan-Greene said. "I don't just mean monetary resources. I mean time and their housing might be less safe and they may not have stable housing and all those things can contribute to kids who are being put into unsafe positions, through no fault of the parents, except that the parents happen to be struggling with poverty."

She said there are also different views today of how much a child should be allowed to do without parental supervision. Things like the old concept of a "latch key kid" might draw a complaint to child protection today.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.