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.
A note about bias
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:
thinking more victims will be younger children than older ones
being alert to physical neglect more than other forms
considering children from particular socio-economic backgrounds to be at risk
But as we know, neglect and all its forms can occur to all children, of any age and from any demographic.
What is affluent neglect?
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:
Pressure to succeed
Drug and alcohol use (by parents and/or children)
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?
What else can we do?
Ensure your staff training/updates address bias and help colleagues to identify any biases they possess and how to ensure these do not impact on their roles with children and families.
Review whether your staff training is sufficiently diverse, and includes case studies and examples of all families, including those from middle (and higher) incomes.
Inform parents about the school’s approach to safeguarding and the alignment to the school’s values as soon as they join the school so that there is transparency.
Explore the school’s approach to talking to parents about neglect. What is your approach? What values underpin this approach? What support is there for staff in having conversations that they may find challenging?
Make sure your response to concerns of neglect is clear within your safeguarding procedures, and that these procedures are followed for all children, irrelevant of the context.
Check how effective your record-keeping is at conveying a child’s experience of neglect. Make sure your records are specific, objective and evidence based, and that they demonstrate the impact on the child, including any cumulative harm.