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Exploring the relationship between neglect and adult-perpetrated intrafamilial child sexual abuse: Evidence Scope 2

This scope aims to explore the relationship between neglect and intra-familial child sexual abuse (IFCSA). Current approaches to the study of child abuse and neglect increasingly highlight the weaknesses in solely focusing on single forms of harm in understanding prevention, identification, impact and overcoming maltreatment and victimisation. While not all children experience multiple forms of harm, the recent literature clustered under areas of study such as ‘poly-victimisation’ (Finkelhor, Ormrod and Turner, 2007), multiple adversities (Davidson, Bunting and Webb, 2012), adverse childhood experiences, multitype maltreatment (Higgins and McCabe, 2001) and revictimisation (Classen, Palesh and Aggarwal, 2005) draw attention to the cumulative nature of harm for a significant group of other children and young people. Researchers in these areas assert the importance of understanding the full victimisation profiles of children and young people in order to address the cumulative impacts of harm comprehensively. This literature has importantly highlighted the complexity of children’s victimisation but is in the early phases of describing the factors that may explain these complex experiences.

Neglect is one of the most common forms of child maltreatment. In England 43% of child protection plans are initiated in response to identified neglect (Department for Education, 2015a) and in other UK nations neglect is the most common reason for children being on the child protection register (Jütte et al, 2015)2. Cases recorded in child protection systems are likely to be merely the tip of the iceberg, however; many more cases fall below the threshold for criminal intervention (Dickens, 2007) and Radford et al’s general population study (2011) found neglect was the most common form of maltreatment reported within the family. The most recent triennial review of serious case reviews (SCRs)3 found that, of the 175 SCRs reviewed in detail, neglect was a factor in 62% of all cases of non-fatal harm and in 52% of cases where a child had died (Sidebotham et al, 2016). Despite its significance, neglect is one of the least researched areas of maltreatment (see Allnock, forthcoming; Stoltenborgh, Bakermans- Kranenburg and van IJzendoorn, 2013; Stoltenborgh et al, 2015). Oral evidence submitted to the Children’s Commissioner’s Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse in the Family Environment suggests there may be considerable numbers of children who are identified as experiencing neglect where there are additional concerns around sexual abuse in the family environment (Children’s Commissioner, 2015).

It is imperative, then, to think critically about the overlap between neglect and IFCSA and to ask questions of our practice and policy in this regard. Although the evidence is complex, and in some cases lacking altogether, it is important to understand co-occurrence and to think about ways of supporting families to ensure that perpetrators find fewer opportunities to target and abuse children.