The cumulative effect of neglect and failure to thrive on cognitive functioning

Child Abuse Negl. 1997 Jul;21(7):691-700. doi: 10.1016/s0145-2134(97)00029-x.


Objective: A cumulative risk model was used to examine the relationship among neglect, failure to thrive (FTT), and cognitive functioning in low income children.

Method: A sample of 177 children 3 to 30 months old was recruited from a pediatric clinic serving low-income, primarily African American families. Four groups were formed based on neglect and FTT status: Neglect and FTT, Neglect Only, FTT Only, and No Neglect or FTT. FTT was defined as weight-for-age below the 5th percentile on growth charts. To avoid the biases associated with Child Protective Service reports as definitions of neglect, the HOME scale (Caldwell & Bradley, 1984) was used to define neglect.

Results: The cognitive performance of the group with neglect and FTT was significantly below that of the children in the Neglect Only, FTT Only, and No Neglect or FTT groups.

Conclusions: These findings support a model in which the accumulation of risk factors is detrimental to cognitive functioning. The results also underscore the need for thorough evaluation when one risk factor has been identified. Growth failure may come to the attention of medical personnel, but neglect may not be detected. However, a child experiencing both neglect and FTT may be at risk for significant deficits in cognitive functioning.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Child Abuse / psychology*
  • Child Development*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cognition Disorders / etiology*
  • Failure to Thrive / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Risk Assessment