Methods: Data for this quantitative study were drawn from the Georgia Department of Child and Family Services, the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice, and the US Census. The unit of study was a zip code: 329 zip codes in Georgia were selected by a stratified sample method (metropolitan and non-metropolitan zip codes). The independent variables were community socio-economic factors: the rates of poverty, unemployment, residential mobility, single parent family, crowded dwelling, and African American (AA) population. The mediating variables were child abuse and neglect. The dependent variables were juvenile crime, property crime, and violent crime. The path analyses using SAS (Version 9.0) were performed to examine paths between the community factors and juvenile crime through child abuse/neglect.
Results: This study showed that poverty and unemployment did not have a direct association with juvenile crime while residential mobility, single parent family, crowded dwelling, and AA population had a direct association. Interestingly, among child maltreatment, only neglect had a positive mediating effect between the neighborhood socio-economic characteristics and juvenile crime (the higher a neglect rate, the higher a juvenile crime rate). Even though poverty did not have a direct association, it had an indirect association through neglect. Another interesting finding was that residential mobility and single parent family had a positive association with abuse, neglect, and crime, while crowded dwelling and AA population had a negative association with them. For example, a community with a higher rate of single parent family would like have a higher rate of juvenile crime, while a community with a higher rate of crowded dwelling would likely have a lower rate of juvenile crime. In addition, the study showed a similar result of analyses between juvenile property and violent crimes.
Conclusions and Implications: This study mainly demonstrated that child neglect was a significant factor for juvenile crime, but child abuse was not. In a relationship with juvenile crime, single parent family and residential mobility were positive, while crowded dwelling and AA population were negative. The findings of the study suggest that juvenile crimes occur not because the juveniles were poor but because they did not have structural supervision. Other implications of the findings are discussed in relation to social work practice and research.