I recently read a thought provoking post and linked article from @mepatriot. It was about how the poor get targeted by child protective services way more than the rich and its usually for “neglect.” Such a vague word anyway and so open to interpretation, depending on your way of thinking.
When my father was growing up, soon after the war, his family was poor. Food and clothing were a limited resource for him and his 3 siblings. As a baby he apparently wore his sister’s old clothes. They could afford one pair of shoes a year and this wasn't always for every one of them. When the shoes developed holes, they put cardboard in them. They couldn't afford washing machines, so laundry day was on the weekend and everyone pitched in. These children learnt to do hard graft, because there was no other choice and food was not always a filling meal, despite their best efforts. They were, however, well loved and a close knit family. My father recalls his childhood memories fondly, despite the hardships.
Although we might not like to admit it, there are poor families in first world countries to this day. They struggle to put meals on the table, the only place they can afford to live might be infested with vermin and in order to put food on the table they might have to work and leave older siblings in charge of younger ones or ask a friend or neighbour to keep a watch on them, if they aren't also having to work.
In a wealthy country this is not as common as it used to be and it's easy to think that children living in bad conditions or not always getting enough to eat are being neglected and not cared for. Yet a child left at home unsupervised, is not necessarily unloved or uncared for. It could purely be that the working parent can't afford childcare and the work that keeps them away from the children is the only thing that puts food on the table and a roof over their heads.
The problem with the use of the word “neglect” by child protective services as a form of abuse, is that it isn't the same as abuse unless purposely done. If a family is quite able to feed their children, but doesn't, then there's no disputing that this is abuse. It's done from a lack of love and care.
A child's developing brain is incredibly sensitive. It has been found that abused children and adults abused as children have a higher rate experiencing hallucinations. This, to me, indicates trauma to the brain development and the head doesn't need to experience physical trauma for this to happen. It's also common for those who've been subject to child abuse to develop split personalities and block out certain memories, subconsciously.
Removing a child from their home environment is a traumatic experience for them. It is, in its own way, abusive. So unless the abuse being experienced by the child is already way above the trauma that their removal would cause, this action should surely never be considered. A child will most certainly cry over hunger, but to snatch them away from their loving care giver is not helping matters. Surely in this situation a form of assistance is needed. In first world countries it is a failure of our system if we can't make sure that families have access to food and a roof over their head.
In the article, linked by @mepatriot, an example was given of a woman who lost her children into foster care for 3 years because the only accommodation she could afford at the time had a rat problem, which made it nearly impossible to keep fresh foods in. They weren't returned to her until she was able to get new accommodation and have some mandated parenting classes. Essentially the message was that she was too poor to be a good parent. While the children were eventually returned to their mother, who knows what damage those three years did to their developing brains and what issues it will cause. That can’t be undone. What if, instead, she'd had help to find a place which didn't have rats? What sort of message could that have sent to these children about caring for one another?
People all have different perceptions of what is a good or bad way to parent. My sister-in-law thought that my children missed out, because in her opinion, how I dressed them wasn't in a style that she considered good enough. They weren't trendy enough because I didn't buy the latest fashions. I choose to stay at home with my children to have quality time with them, rather than go to work, then couldn't afford to spend on lavish things for them. Not that I believe that giving them everything they want makes for a rounded adult, even if I could have afforded it. She chose a family environment where both parents work full time and they can buy everything the children ever want, but don't necessarily use. So she believes, again, that my children missed out because they didn't have lots of expensive things.
She might think my children neglected because I don't buy them enough and I might think her children neglected because she doesn't stay at home with them. I could say that I feel that her family dynamics aren't a comfortable environment, because they argue a lot in comparison to our quiet family. However, I know that she loves her boys and is doing what she thinks is right by them. They in return love their parents.
“Neglect” should never be a reason to take a child from their family, it's too open to interpretation. It needs to be proven abuse, or there is a risk of abuse in the actual removal of the child from their home.
Thank you, @mepatriot for a thought provoking post. I was going to comment, but it got a bit long, so here is my response for you!