Report: The ’Neglect of Neglect’

While child abuse often captures news headlines and research studies, the fact is most Arizona children are removed from their homes and sent to foster care because of neglect, not abuse.

Neglect assessment and prevention policies are among the initial areas of research and analysis by Morrison Institute for Public Policy in working collaboratively with the Arizona Department of Child Safety on a three-year project.

Arizona Community Foundation is underwriting this special project called Spotlight on Arizona's Kids.

"We thank ACF for the funding and are excited to be working with DCS in finding ways to reduce the neglect of children in Arizona," said Thom Reilly, director of Morrison Institute. "The commitment by all concerned to address this nuanced and complex matter is matched only by the determination to achieve measurable and lasting progress."

The project's first white paper, The 'Neglect of Neglect': Exploring the Less-Visible Side of Child Maltreatment, was released today (Dec. 14) and posted on the Morrison Institute website at The briefing provides a framework for the task at hand. While there has been a reversal of trend in the number of Arizona children entering foster care, there are still more than 18,000 children in the system.

The Arizona Department of Child Safety (DCS) was created in 2014 with new leadership committed to addressing the root causes of problems in a system strained beyond capacity and a mounting backlog of investigative and foster care cases. As part of that effort, and in support of its strategic plan, DCS is teaming with Morrison Institute to understand the types of family situations that come to the attention of DCS due to child neglect, and to identify proven and innovative child neglect prevention programs.

"Expanding prevention efforts in the area of neglect will have a significant impact on our ability to keep Arizona children safe," said Gregory McKay, Director of DCS. "We are looking forward to the research and findings of the Morrison Institute and are grateful to be included in this team effort. Prevention is a top priority for our community that will no doubt provide a brighter future for thousands of Arizona's most vulnerable children."

Morrison Institute independently will evaluate prevention programs and help develop policy options for effective prevention strategies regarding the common but different types of neglect: physical, emotional, medical and supervisory. The evaluation also will include neglect related to substance-exposed newborns.

"Neglect typically accounts for approximately 70 percent of all abuse reports made to DCS," Reilly said. "The Governor and Legislature have expressed significant interest in expanding prevention services, and DCS has made this one of its top strategic priorities."

ACF, which is underwriting Morrison Institute's special project, has made the welfare and education of Arizona's foster youth a major focus of its many public outreach and funding efforts.

"There is no group more vulnerable and more deserving of our best efforts than children at risk of entering the child welfare system and those already in the child welfare system," said Steve Seleznow, ACF's president & CEO. "We funded this critically important project to address the needs of the most vulnerable children in Arizona and ensure they are protected by their communities and are with healthy families to pave the way for a successful life."

Barriers that have been identified in developing a more-effective campaign against child neglect include:
  • the lack of a common operational definition of prevention;
  • the need to identify, differentiate and address the various types of neglect;
  • the absence of a clear set of guidelines concerning which agencies - public, private, nonprofit and faith-based - should provide which services;
  • and the need to broaden and intensify prevention efforts.
Morrison Institute will draw on experience of state and national experts in seeking ways to address such barriers.

A Leadership Forum will be convened quarterly with DCS personnel, legislators, state agencies, courts, state attorney general, county attorneys, child advocates, the business community and tribes to develop Arizona-specific solutions for effective prevention strategies.

Morrison Institute for Public Policy, an Arizona State University statewide resource established in 1982, is Arizona's premier think tank for independent and nonpartisan research, analysis, public outreach and polling.