Tackling child neglect in Scotland 2: rapid review of intervention literature

A rapid review of the literature relating to programmes, approaches and interventions with children in Scotland who may be experiencing neglect, undertaken by academics at the University of Stirling.

Rapid review of literature

6. The Centre for Child Wellbeing and Protection at the University of Stirling was commissioned by Scottish Government to undertake a rapid review of the literature in relation to programmes, approaches and interventions with children who may be experiencing neglect to inform the Child Protection Improvement Programme and the pilot programme of improvement work. The aim of this rapid review of the evidence was to identify the core and common elements and principles shown to be associated with effective practice with chronic neglect, including those incorporated within routine practice by a range of disciplines as well as those embedded within formal evidence-based programmes.

Aims and methods

7. This review aimed to bring together current literature on interventions with children and families who may have experienced neglect. This review did not include published material on the factors or characteristics of families where children experience neglect, but instead focused on evaluations of interventions or approaches with both children and families. It should be clear that due to tight timescales and limited resources this was not a full systematic review, but the approach did use the guidance on systematic review as a framework (Centre for Reviews and Dissemination ( http://www.york.ac.uk/inst/crd/). Of course, such a review is limited by what interventions researchers evaluate. In particular the evidence base is limited by lack of research into the ‘practice as usual’ that characterises much of the routine multi-disciplinary intervention undertaken every day across Scotland.

8. Qualitative and quantitative studies were reviewed and included pre and post intervention studies, longitudinal follow-up, controlled studies, randomised controlled studies, single-case descriptions and evaluations of interventions without quantitative analysis. Background discussion papers and systematic literature were also included.

Search strategy

9. The following terms - interventions AND approaches AND programmes, child* AND neglect – were used to explore all journals in the Wiley Online Journals Library and ScienceDirect Freedom collection, and the following databases:

  • SocINDEX with Full Text
  • ScienceDirect
  • Political Science Complete
  • Criminal Justice Abstracts with Full Text
  • ERIC, Academic Search Index
  • PsycInfo
  • Business Source Complete
  • CINAHL Complete

10. Articles from a range of disciplines were also searched: Applied Sciences; Health and Medicine; Life Sciences; Nursing and Allied Health; Political Science; Politics and Government; Psychology; Public Health; Social Sciences and Humanities; Social Work; and Sociology.

11. In total, 899 peer-reviewed articles were identified and screened. Articles were excluded if the focus was wider than neglect i.e. child maltreatment, if the focus was on the factors associated with neglect or if the focus was on the identification or signs of neglect. This initial screening for relevance resulted in 166 articles eligible for further screening.

12. The next stage of filtering considered the articles in more detail. A further 47 articles were excluded resulting in 119 articles to consider for data extraction. At this stage reviewers rated both methodological quality (1 poor – 3 very good) and the usefulness of the paper (1 not at all – 3 very useful) to the review question. A selection of articles was subject to review by two reviewers to ensure inter-rater reliability. Those articles which rated 1 for both were automatically excluded, however, articles that may have scored poor for methods, but high in relevance were included.

13. Forty-seven papers were included in the final review.


14. The original aim of the review had been to include articles and papers which focused on neglect. The review was limited, however, as few studies or papers in relation to interventions have a specific focus on neglect. The decision was taken to include articles that discussed both child abuse and neglect, but distinguished between the two. Those which discussed neglect in the generic terms of child maltreatment or abuse were excluded. A second limitation was that much research and literature review focuses on the neglect of young children under the age of eight; there is little in the literature in relation to interventions with older children and young people (9-15). A third limitation is that some studies lacked adequate sample size and many studies of potentially promising prevention programmes lacked sufficient methodological rigor in terms of study design. A fourth limitation was that there were very few longitudinal studies to fully understand the effectiveness of an intervention over time.

15. Effective interventions in neglect face many challenges, not least because the nature of interventions and support will depend on how neglect is defined and understood (Daniel 2015; Hearn 2011). For example, if neglect is viewed as a symptom of structural inequalities and poverty, a case for adopting a public health approach to intervention can be made. If it is defined as an issue of poor parenting then the approach may focus on parenting and home visitation programmes.

Included articles

16. Thirty-two articles were from North America and Canada, eight from the UK, and four from Europe and three Australia and New Zealand. Twenty-seven articles related to primary studies (level 1) and twenty articles were either reviews or discussion papers (level 2). In terms of methods and usefulness:

Primary studies

  • 3 (methods), 3 (usefulness) 10 studies
  • 3 (methods), 2 (usefulness) 8 studies
  • 2 (methods), 3 (usefulness) 4 studies
  • 2 (methods), 2 (usefulness) 5 studies

Guidance, review or discussion

  • 3 (usefulness) 16 papers, reports or reviews
  • 2 (usefulness) 4 papers, reports or reviews


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