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Do laypersons conflate poverty and neglect?
Law and Human Behavior  (IF3.795),  Pub Date : 2020-08-01, DOI: 10.1037/lhb0000415
Kelli L Dickerson,Jennifer Lavoie,Jodi A Quas

OBJECTIVE Child neglect is often initially identified via adults who come into contact with children and report their suspicions to the authorities. Little is known about what behaviors laypersons view as constituting neglect and hence worth reporting. We examined laypersons' perceptions of neglect and poverty, particularly how these factors independently and jointly shaped laypersons' decisions about what warrants official reporting of neglect, and how laypersons' socioeconomic background related to their decisions. HYPOTHESES We anticipated that neglect would be correctly perceived as such, but that extreme poverty would also be perceived as neglect, with these latter perceptions being most pronounced among laypersons of higher socioeconomic background. METHOD In 2 studies, adults read vignettes about a mother's care of her daughter and rendered decisions about whether the mother's behavior met the legal standard of neglect and should be reported. In Study 1 (N = 365, 55% female, mean age = 37.12 years), indicators of poverty and neglect were manipulated. In Study 2 (N = 474, 53% female, mean age = 38.25 years), only poverty (housing instability: homelessness vs. not) was manipulated. RESULTS Laypersons often conflated poverty and neglect, especially in circumstances of homelessness. Laypersons of lower socioeconomic background were less likely to perceive neglect in general and to report an obligation to make a referral (R2s ranged from 17-26%, odds ratios ranged from 2.24-3.08). CONCLUSIONS Laypersons may overreport neglect in circumstances of poverty. Increasing public awareness of how to recognize and separate neglect from poverty may enhance identification of vulnerable children and families. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2020 APA, all rights reserved).