Methods: This study exploits a monthly address history built for all children entering kindergarten in a large city during the peak of the housing crisis (2007-2010). We linked information from public sources on the characteristics, conditions, and transactions at each address and for the houses in 500, 1000 and 1500 foot buffers from the children’s residences. We examine how the timing of exposures to these housing conditions affect the probability of child maltreatment reports to local authorities, net of neighborhood socio-economic disadvantage and family background factors. The study also addresses the problem of dynamic neighborhood selection by fixed effects panel models as well as marginal structural models and inverse probability of treatment weights.
Results: We find strong evidence that the exposure to housing problems between birth and school contributes to increased risk of child maltreatment reports. The effect of neighborhood socio-economic disadvantage on child maltreatment is also shown to partially operate through the pathways of distressed housing. Sadly, children in our study who started life in the worst housing saw little improvement in housing conditions over time despite frequent residential moves. A focus on improving housing quality in the early years will be necessary to overcome this element of neighborhood disadvantage among children big cities.
Conclusion: Neighborhood effects on child maltreament rates may in part be due to the concentration of distressed housing in poor neighborhoods. Housing problems are proximal influences on parenting stress and child well being that may be confounded in neighborhood effects research that does not properly account for housing conditions and selection. It is important for social work practitioners to anticipate housing problems that may lead to child maltreatment.