The neglect of child neglect: a meta-analytic review of the prevalence of neglect

Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol. 2013 Mar;48(3):345-55. doi: 10.1007/s00127-012-0549-y. Epub 2012 Jul 15.


Purpose: The aim of the current meta-analysis was to provide an estimate of the prevalence of physical and emotional neglect by integrating prevalence figures from the body of research reporting on neglect. An attempt was also made to unravel the substantial variation in prevalence figures reported in primary studies by analyzing the effects of procedural factors and sample characteristics on combined prevalence rates.

Methods: Studies providing prevalence rates of child neglect were searched using electronic databases, exploring specialized journals, and by searching references of publications for other relevant studies. Data were extracted using a coding system. Intercoder reliability was satisfactory. A comprehensive meta-analysis was conducted.

Results: Child physical neglect prevalence rates were found for 13 independent samples with a total of 59,406 participants, and child emotional neglect prevalence rates were found for 16 independent samples with a total of 59,655 participants. The overall estimated prevalence was 163/1,000 for physical neglect, and 184/1,000 for emotional neglect, with no apparent gender differences. The influence of research design factors on the prevalence of physical neglect was more pronounced than on the prevalence of emotional neglect. Studies on physical neglect in 'low-resource' countries were conspicuously absent.

Conclusions: Child neglect is a problem of considerable extent, but seems to be a neglected type of maltreatment in scientific research. This is illustrated by the deplorable dearth of studies on child neglect, especially in low-resource countries. Recommendations for the design of future prevalence studies are proposed.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Child Abuse / prevention & control*
  • Child Abuse / psychology*
  • Child Abuse / statistics & numerical data
  • Emotions
  • Humans
  • Mental Health*
  • Prevalence
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Risk Factors
  • Surveys and Questionnaires