This post explores the lesser discussed notion of neglect in affluent families. We explore the experiences children are more likely to have in affluent families, and how schools can be more equipped to recognise and respond to these.
When thinking about children experiencing neglect, professionals can regularly demonstrate bias in their decision making and responses. It is worth noting that we all have biases to some degree. This is not anything to be ashamed of, although can sometimes be perceived as such. Bias is a natural part of being a human and develops from the earliest interactions we have as infants. It only becomes an issue when our assumptions affect behaviour towards other people. Therefore, it is helpful to acknowledge our biases so we can find ways to mitigate their impact on our decision-making.
When considering whether a child is being well cared for or not, we can typically be biased towards:
But as we know, neglect and all its forms can occur to all children, of any age and from any demographic.
There is no specific definition of ‘affluent neglect’ and the research in this field is limited. But the term draws our attention to the less acknowledged fact that children can be neglected in families where there is some degree of material wealth.
A prominent UK researcher in this field is Professor Claudia Bernard and, in her work, she suggests that children from more affluent families who experience neglect are less likely to experience physical forms (although not impossible) than the following:
Children from wealthier families are more likely to experience emotional neglect, which can make it challenging to evidence (it’s not usually tangible or physical) and to demonstrate impact (commonly the impact is seen in children’s mental wellbeing, most commonly through behaviour and/or emotions, which is very difficult to attribute to particular experiences of care).
It can also be a challenge to engage more affluent parents in discussing concerns about the extent to which their child’s care needs are being met, because as we explored at the beginning of this post, they too are probably subject to bias and thinking about neglect in a narrow way (as a particular set of behaviours only affecting certain children). From this perspective, any suggestion of them not caring for their child may feel absurd. In recognising this, how would you mitigate it and adapt your communication? What language might you choose to use, or not ? How might you explain your concerns without being judgemental, trying to keep the child at the centre? In most situations, the common thread will be that both you and the parents will want the child to flourish and have positive outcomes. How can this knowledge help to create a positive starting point for a conversation?