Methods Social Workers Use to Address Childhood Neglect

Social Worker License

by Social Worker License Staff

Updated: January 5th, 2023

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Child Maltreatment report, in 2019:

  • An estimated 3.7 million referrals were made to child protective services (CPS) agencies regarding the potential abuse or neglect of more than 6.2 million children.
  • Of those referrals, nearly 4 out of 5 (79.2%) were screened in for further investigation or assessment.
  • Of the cases that were investigated or assessed, approximately 1.3 million children were found to be victims of abuse or neglect.
  • Neglect was the most common form of maltreatment, accounting for more than three-quarters (78.2%) of confirmed cases.
  • Physical abuse accounted for 17.8% of confirmed cases, sexual abuse for 9.5%, and psychological abuse for 8.4%.
  • Children under the age of 3 were most vulnerable to neglect, accounting for more than half (54.1%) of all victims.
  • Children living in households with a high level of parental stress, such as those with substance abuse or mental health issues, were more likely to experience neglect.
  • Children in rural areas were more likely to be victims of neglect than those in urban areas.
  • African American children had the highest rates of confirmed maltreatment, followed by Native American and Alaska Native children, and white children.

These statistics highlight the prevalence of child neglect in the United States and the importance of prevention and intervention efforts to ensure the safety and well-being of children.

Social workers play a critical role in the lives of children suffering from neglect. They are often the first point of contact for children and families in need of assistance, and they work to identify and address the underlying causes of neglect, as well as provide support and resources to help families meet the basic needs of their children. Social workers also work to ensure the safety and well-being of children by conducting assessments, developing safety plans, and, if necessary, working with other agencies to remove children from harmful situations.

In addition to these practical roles, social workers also provide emotional support and guidance to children and families affected by neglect. They may serve as a sounding board, offer therapy and counseling, and provide a sense of hope and optimism to those who are struggling. Social workers are trained to work with people from all walks of life and to be understanding and nonjudgmental, which can be especially important for children and families who may feel isolated or misunderstood.

What is the definition of Child Abuse and Neglect?

According to the Federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA), which provides guidance to states on identifying and addressing child abuse and neglect, child abuse and neglect is defined as “at minimum” the following: “any recent act or failure to act on the part of a parent or caretaker which results in death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse or exploitation; or an act or failure to act which presents an imminent risk of serious harm.” (42 U.S.C.A. ยง 5106g) This definition was amended by the CAPTA Reauthorization Act of 2010.

How do Social Workers Address Problems Stemming from Childhood Neglect?

Methods to address problems related to childhood neglect should match the problem and are therefore many. The following are some of the most common methods to address child neglect to ensure that children’s basic needs are being met. Some of these methods include:

  1. Working with parents: Social workers may work with parents to identify the root causes of neglect and help them develop the skills and resources they need to provide for their children’s basic needs. This may include providing access to services such as parenting classes, financial assistance, and mental health treatment. Child Protective Services has created a caseworker guide that provides some universal tools and strategies when working with families that are certainly helpful for any social worker addressing families.
  2. Collaborating with community organizations: Social workers may partner with local organizations, such as churches, schools, and non-profits, to connect families with the resources and support they need.
  3. Engaging family and community members: Social workers may work with extended family members, neighbors, or other community members to provide additional support and supervision for families in need.
  4. Providing in-home services: In some cases, social workers may provide in-home services, such as weekly visits or home-based therapy, to help families address neglect and other challenges.
  5. Coordinating with other agencies: Social workers may work with other agencies, such as child protective services or the police, to ensure that children are safe and their basic needs are being met.

Overall, the goal of social workers in addressing child neglect is to help families build the skills and resources they need to provide a safe, stable, and nurturing environment for their children.


  1. Child Welfare Information Gateway. (2023). Working with families to prevent child abuse and neglect.