Pediatric firearm-related deaths and injuries are a serious societal problem. Our study’s objective was to determine social workers’ assessment of child neglect with respect to access or potential access to a loaded firearm.
Study invitations were delivered by e-mail to National Association of Social Workers members designating their practice as “Child/Family Welfare” (N = 4933) in October/November, 2015. Demographics, attitudes regarding child access prevention (CAP) laws, and the ages (4–14 years) at which social workers deemed several scenarios as child neglect were determined. Descriptive (frequencies) and bivariate (chi square) analyses were performed.
485 of 4933 social workers completed the survey (9.8%). Of these, most agreed or strongly agreed (≥92%) there should be laws in place requiring firearms to be stored so unwanted access cannot be obtained by a child, even up to 15 years of age. In a scenario where a child had potential access to a loaded firearm, but never gained access, the presence of a CAP law pertinent to the child in the scenario increased the likelihood respondents would find the situation child neglect for all ages (p < 0.0001 for each age comparison). Moreover, 10.3% felt they could not deem the situation child neglect without the presence of a CAP law, no matter the age of the child. In a scenario where a child gained access to a loaded firearm, the vast majority found this to be child neglect (82–99%, with the percentage varying by the age of the child involved), regardless of the presence or absence of a CAP law and/or an injury being sustained. In addition, when a CAP law was in place, social workers were more likely to find neglect if the child had sustained a firearm-related injury as well (p values ranged from 0.016–0.0081 for age comparisons).
The vast majority of child/family welfare social workers surveyed found it to be child neglect when youth accessed or had potential access to a loaded, unsecured firearm. Results of the study provide support for the passage of universal CAP laws to help protect children equally across states and ensure the safe storage of firearms in homes.