Society for Social Work and Research

Sixteenth Annual Conference Research That Makes A Difference: Advancing Practice and Shaping Public Policy
11-15 January 2012 I Grand Hyatt Washington I Washington, DC

16128 Neighborhood Perception and Child Maltreatment

Friday, January 13, 2012: 8:30 AM
Constitution C (Grand Hyatt Washington)
* noted as presenting author
Kathryn Maguire-Jack, MSW, MPA, PhD Student, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI
Andrea N. Gromoske, MSW, Doctoral Student, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Milwaukee, WI
Background and Purpose: A recent meta-analysis of 155 studies on the risk factors for maltreatment found evidence that 39 different factors related to the child, parent, and family were associated with abuse and/or neglect (Stith, et al., 2009). To the extent that maltreatment is concentrated in certain localities, children may be at greater risk of maltreatment based on where they grow up, although much remains to be learned about precisely how “place” matters for maltreatment risk. Research on the contextual correlates of maltreatment relying on social disorganization theory has suggested that the condition of the neighborhood in which the family lives can have impacts on maltreatment. In this study, we seek to determine whether neighborhood perceptions are associated with higher scores on the psychological aggression, physical assault, and neglect subscales of the Parent-Child Conflict Tactics Scale (CTS, Strauss, 1998). We hypothesize that mother's who perceive their neighborhoods more negatively will have higher scores on the CTS subscales.

Methods: The data are drawn from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study (FFCW), a birth cohort study of nearly 5,000 families in 20 urban U.S. cities. To determine whether neighborhood perception is associated with her scores on the CTS, we estimate a series of ordinary least squares regressions that focus on associations between a mother's neighborhood perception at child age 3 and her CTS scores at child age 5. To measure neighborhood perception, we include mother's responses to questions regarding her perception of whether neighbors would be willing to intervene in 5 scenarios ranging from children skipping school to a fight breaking out in front of their house; and 5 questions regarding the mother's perception of the neighborhood and the people within it, ranging from people being willing to help their neighbors to having a gang problem in the neighborhood. Our key dependent variables are psychological aggression, physical assault, and neglect from the Parent-Child Conflict Tactics Scale (CTS). We control for the mother's age, income, race, depression, issues with alcohol and other drugs, education, and parenting stress, and the focal child's sex.

Results: We find that mother's negative neighborhood perception is associated with higher scores on the psychological aggression (β=1.59, p<.05) and physical assault subscales of the CTS (β=1.72, p<.10). We do not find a significant association between neighborhood perception and the neglect subscale of the CTS.

Conclusions and Implications: Our findings suggest that the neighborhood context in which families live has potential consequences for child maltreatment. As a result, improving neighborhoods and parents' perceptions about their neighborhoods may play a preventive role in maltreatment. By building safer, supportive, and more cohesive neighborhoods, we may improve parents' perception of the neighborhoods in which they live, thereby decreasing the likelihood of maltreatment. Social policies to improve neighborhoods may be best accomplished through community building and grass-roots efforts, because such approaches give a voice to the individuals within the neighborhood. Further, community-building efforts that come from the families who live in the neighborhoods may further improve their perceptions of the neighborhood.