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

16188 An Exploration of Community Housing Variables and Child Maltreatment

Saturday, January 14, 2012: 11:00 AM
Constitution C (Grand Hyatt Washington)
* noted as presenting author
Melinda Gushwa, PhD, Assistant Professor, Rhode Island College, Providence, RI
J. Walter Paquin, PhD, Assistant Professor, Bluffton College, Bluffton, OH
Background & Purpose: In light of the downturn in the economy and the increase in foreclosure rates, this study sought to explore the impact of shifts in the housing market on community rates of child maltreatment, a previously untapped area of exploration in both child maltreatment and urban studies research. The focus of the inquiry was on the relationship between housing conditions and three forms of maltreatment: neglect, physical abuse, and sexual abuse. It was hypothesized that there would be a positive relationship between housing variables and community rates of maltreatment. Of particular interest was the examination of the relationship between housing issues and rates of neglect, as neglect has been tied to income in the literature, and we presumed that some housing variables could be a proxy for income.

Methods: This study utilized administrative data from the Missouri Department of Social Services annual report of child maltreatment and selected characteristics from the American Community Survey (ACS) 3-Year Estimates to examine the relationship between community housing issues and maltreatment. The ACS data profile examines counties with populations of 20,000 or more, which allowed for analysis of 55 of Missouri's 115 county level municipalities. Housing variables included the following: home ownership and renter rates, rent exceeding 30% of income, household size for renters, lack of privacy (dwellings with less than one bedroom), and overcrowding (dwellings in which there were more than 1.51 people per room). In addition to exploring housing variables, several traditional economic indicators (unemployment rates; percentage of households receiving public assistance, food stamps, and living below the poverty line) were included in the analysis for comparison. Bivariate and multivariate analyses were used to compare these variables to the community rates of neglect, physical abuse and sexual abuse.

Results: Results indicated that there was no relationship between housing factors and community rates of neglect. With regard to physical abuse, only the relationship with overcrowding was significant, but in a non-congruent direction. There was more physical abuse in counties were overcrowding was not an issue (t=2.082*). The major significant findings in the study were around sexual abuse, which was significantly higher in counties where overcrowding was an issue (t=2.85**). And, while overcrowding was found to have a significant relationship, interestingly, there was no such relationship between sexual abuse rates and lack of privacy.

Conclusions & Implications: This study had some surprising findings, particularly around the lack of relationship between housing factors and physical abuse and neglect. The sexual abuse findings point to the need for further exploration of the relationship between household overcrowding and community rates of sexual abuse. Child maltreatment risk assessments could benefit from additional inquiry into issues of household overcrowding. Further, additional inquiry on the topic area using both community and individual level data is warranted to better understand the relationship among these variables beyond Missouri, which has a much higher rate of sexual abuse substantiations as compared to the rest of the country.

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