This research sought to determine if the language delay (LD) of severely neglected children under 3 years old was better explained by a cumulative risk model or by the specificity of risk factors. The objective was also to identify the risk factors with the strongest impact on LD among various biological, psychological, and environmental factors.
Sixty-eight severely neglected children and their mothers participated in this cross-sectional study. Children were between 2 and 36 months of age. Data included information about the child's language development and biological, psychological, and environmental risk factors.
Prevalence of LD is significantly higher in this subgroup of children than in the population as a whole. Although we observed that the risk of LD significantly increased with an increase in the cumulative count of the presence of the child's biological-psychological risk factors, the one-by-one analysis of the individual factors revealed that the cumulative effect mainly reflected the specific impact of the child's cognitive development. When we considered also the environmental risk factors, multivariate logistic regression established that cognitive development, the mother's own physical and emotional abuse experience as a child, and the mother's low acceptability level towards her child are linked to LD in severely neglected children.
Language development is the result of a complex interaction between risk factors. LD in severely neglected children is better explained by the specificity of risk factors than by the cumulative risk model.
Most prevention and early intervention programs promote and target an increase in the quantity and quality of language stimulation offered to the child. Our results suggest that particular attention should be given to other environmental factors, specifically the mother's psychological availability and her sensitivity towards the child. It is essential to suggest interventions targeting various ecological dimensions of neglectful mothers to help break the intergenerational neglect transmission cycle. It is also important to develop government policies and ensure that efforts among the various response networks are concerted since in-depth changes to neglect situations can only come about when all interested parties become involved.