Williams, Sasha (2015) Drawing the Line: An Exploration of How Lay People Construct Child Neglect. Doctoral thesis, University of Huddersfield.

This thesis uses a Foucauldian approach to explore how lay people construct child neglect in England. The concept of child neglect developed after the Industrial Revolution in conjunction with the construction of ‘normal’ childhood. Both depend on developmental models of childhood produced by psy-complex discourse. However, the knowledge producing the ‘normal’ family and the disciplinary institutions producing and protecting the ‘normal’ childhood have been challenged by late modernity, with a potential impact on what can be considered ‘abnormal’ and therefore neglectful.
Recent years have seen an increasing professional and political focus on both the importance of child neglect, and the role of lay people in child protection – ‘everybody’s business’. It is unclear how lay people construct child neglect, a category that properly results from political and moral choices made by society. To analyse how lay people construct child neglect, data was collected from focus group discussions between 46 self-defined ‘lay’ people.
Children were constructed as having developmental needs during childhood, which, if unmet, could cause long term problems for child and society. Four clusters of needs were identified: physical, emotional, training and supervisory. If these needs were unmet, children could be seen as Deprived, Unloved, Uncontrolled or Escaping. However, this did not mean they were positioned as neglected. Neglect required some abnormal adult/parent behaviour. The normal parent was non-neglectful although sometimes temporarily Overburdened, the abnormal parent was neglectful, categorised as Clueless, Underinvested or Unsuitable. Lay people were constructed as having a responsibility to support parents and families within their midst. However the forces of late modernity, particularly globalisation, challenged the normal/abnormal family binary, leaving lay people unclear about where society and/or child protection professionals draw the line between normal and neglectful childhoods. The implications of these constructions for children, parents, state, professionals and lay people are examined and recommendations made.

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