Neglect and its relationship to other forms of harm

Topics: Neglect

Examining the relationship between child neglect and forms of sexual harm and abuse

NSPCC and Action for Children with Research in Practice commissioned three linked evidence scopes investigating the potential relationship between neglect and the three issues of:

  • child sexual exploitation
  • intra-familial child sexual abuse (IFCSA)
  • and harmful sexual behaviour (HSB) in children and young people.

The three reports consider what the evidence tells practitioners and policymakers about responding effectively to meet children's needs. The executive summary draws together key messages, themes and implications for practice and policy. Appendices A, B, C and D list:

  • limitations and constraints of the current evidence base
  • statutory definitions of neglect, child sexual abuse and child sexual exploitation, and guidance on harmful sexual behaviours
  • types of neglect and associated features
  • risk factors for child sexual abuse and neglect.

Authors: Elly Hanson, Debbie Allnock and Simon Hackett
Published: 2016

Key findings 

The three evidence scopes show there is no direct, straightforward relationship between neglect and child sexual exploitation (CSE), intra-familial child sexual abuse (IFCSA) and harmful sexual behaviour (HSB). However, the evidence suggests that the impacts of neglect can interact with other factors and adversities in a number of ways to increase young people's vulnerability to harm.

Implications for practitioners and policymakers

From all three evidence scopes:

  • there should be a public health approach to addressing neglect
  • support for families where neglect has been identified should not just focus on parenting but provide children with therapeutic support to help them recover
  • the care system must put the wellbeing of children in care, including recovery from trauma, at the centre of all decision making. This would involve avoiding multiple placements and prioritising children's relationships
  • practitioners need support to identify and respond to emotional neglect, often a hidden form of maltreatment
  • policy, research and frontline practice need to do more to recognise and respond to the needs of particular groups affected by neglect and sexual harm (including LGBT, minority ethnic and disabled children and young people).

From the CSE evidence scope:

  • young people at risk of or experiencing CSE must be offered support to understand or address any vulnerabilities or unmet needs
  • providing children and families affected by neglect or CSE with accessible support around housing, education and employment, mental health and substance misuse would help tackle both forms of maltreatment.

From the IFCSA evidence scope:

  • practitioners working with children and families where neglect or IFCSA are a concern should sensitively investigate the potential for co-occurring and cumulative forms of harm
  • practitioners should be alert to negative, invalidating responses from families to disclosures of IFCSA. Such responses can contribute longer-term emotional and mental health difficulties for children who have experienced CSA.

From the HSB evidence scope:

  • professional responses to HSB should be more holistic and actively encourage family participation in interventions
  • HSB interventions should not only aim to stop the harmful behaviour but meet children's broader developmental needs by drawing on multi-systemic therapy and relationship-based approaches to reconstruct positive attachments.


Please cite the reports as:

Hanson, E. (2016) The relationship between neglect and child sexual exploitation: an evidence scope. Totnes: Research in Practice.

Allnock, D. (2016) What is the relationship between neglect and adult-perpetrated intra-familial abuse? An evidence scope. Totnes: Research in Practice.

Hackett, S. (2016) Neglect and harmful sexual behaviours in children and young people: an evidence scope. Totnes: Research in Practice.

Research in Practice (2016) Child neglect and its relationship to other forms of harm: responding effectively to children's needs: executive summary. Totnes: Research in Practice.