Neglect affects large numbers of children each year and its negative health, social, emotional and academic consequences to children are well documented. Despite this, there has been little theoretical or empirical work identifying its causes. Social information processing (SIP) theory argues that disturbances in parents'cognitive system (knowledge structures, executive functioning, and appraisal processes) play a role in parenting risk and explain neglect's occurrence. To date, this model has shown value in understanding abuse, but has not been well examined in neglect. It may have particular relevance to neglect given there is an association between neglect and parental intellectual limitations. The goal of the proposed project is to extend its validity to child neglect and to explore SIP as a mediator between IQ and neglect. It will examine a sample of low SES mothers, half of whom are perpetrators of neglect and half of whom have no child protection history and who also vary in level of intellectual limitations. Two goals will be pursued: (1)To extend the validation of the social information processing (SIP) Model with Child Protective Services (CPS) identified neglectful mothers and with a sub-group of intellectually limited mothers who are at particular risk for neglect (with a preliminary replication of this goal using direct measures of neglect further validating the SIP model's utility for explaining neglect);and (2) To examine whether the SIP problems which neglectful parents exhibit extend beyond parenting into other interpersonal and non-interpersonal domains, further increasing child risk (i.e., SIP in adult-adult relationships;more general EF such as cognitive flexibility). The link of SIP problems to neglect will be examined controlling for other already identified intrapersonal and contextual correlates. If SIP problems are identified as linked to neglect, this will be useful for developing (1) specific targets in interventions for neglectful parents (especially ones with lower IQs) and (2) screening devices for identifying those at risk of becoming neglectful (especially among lower IQ parents). Findings would inform existing cognitively-based intervention and prevention work and reduce the number of children suffering long term negative sequelae..

Public Health Relevance

Addressing of a major social problem: Neglect accounts for 64.1% of official cases of child maltreatment or almost 7.5 out of every 1,000 US children and accounts for 44.1% of maltreatment deaths yearly (ACYF, 2006). Despite neglect's high incidence relative to other forms of maltreatment and documented negative effects on children's health, social, and academic outcomes, only limited research has addressed neglect's origins (Azar, Povilaitis, Lauretti, &Pouquette, 1998;National Research Council, 1993;Plotkin, Azar, Twentyman, &Perri, 198l;Dubowitz, 1994). One review found more than 10 studies related to child abuse for every 1 of child neglect (Garbarino &Collins, 1999). Another review of maltreatment journals published from 1992-96 revealed only 25 articles with findings specific to neglect out of 489 studies on maltreatment (Zuravin, 1999). A more recent review indicates a similar paucity of data (Azar &Cote, 2005). Indeed, the lack of research attention to neglect has been described as making a mole hill out of a mountain (McSherry, 2007), and there has been a strong call for etiological research. The proposed project is focused on this social problem and would address this gap in the scientific literature. The linking of cognitive processes to parenting responses also capitalizes on a growing body of knowledge in neuroscience. Moreover, focused cognitive difficulties have been identified as a major obstacle for TANF clients achieving independence and recently, there is evidence emerging linking such difficulties to homelessness (MacReady, 2009). The project will have implications for how interventions around neglect need to be structured both in identifying clear target populations for intervention but also document the need for the adaptations that are necessary to reach a population that may be less reachable using traditional approaches. That is, the project findings delineate potential adaptations not currently occurring in child protection work and in prevention efforts that use parent education as the main approach (e.g., how materials need to be presented). It thus will be aimed at those in greatest need within our society and findings would provide directions as to how to meet those needs and reduce negative outcomes to children from neglectful parenting.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development (NICHD)
Research Project (R01)
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Study Section
Psychosocial Development, Risk and Prevention Study Section (PDRP)
Program Officer
Maholmes, Valerie
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Pennsylvania State University
Schools of Arts and Sciences
University Park
United States
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May, Emily M; Azar, Sandra T; Matthews, Stephen A (2018) How Does the Neighborhood ""Come through the Door?"" Concentrated Disadvantage, Residential Instability, and the Home Environment for Preschoolers. Am J Community Psychol 61:218-228
Azar Professor, Sandra T; Maggi, Mirella C; Proctor, Stephon Nathanial (2013) Practices Changes in the Child Protection System to Address the Needs of Parents With Cognitive Disabilities. J Public Child Welf 7:610-632
Azar, Sandra; Robinson, Lara; Proctor, Stephon (2012) Chronic Neglect and Services Without Borders: A Guiding Model for Social Service Enhancement to Address the Needs of Parents With Intellectual Disabilities. J Ment Health Res Intellect Disabil 5:130-156
Azar, Sandra T; Stevenson, Michael T; Johnson, David R (2012) Intellectual Disabilities and Neglectful Parenting: Preliminary Findings on the Role of Cognition in Parenting Risk. J Ment Health Res Intellect Disabil 5:94-129