Material Hardship, Economic Stress, and Child Maltreatment
Methods: The study uses data from the Illinois Families Study (IFS). The sample of IFS participants was randomly selected from the 1998 Illinois welfare caseload and four waves of survey was collected. The final sample for the present study consisted of 1,100 mothers who had minor children at the first wave of interviews, yielding 4,148 person-wave observations. The primary outcome variable was measured as a binary variable of investigated Child Protective Service (CPS) report. Material hardship was measured by a summed number of hardships that families experienced in the past 12 months. Economic stress was measured by using four items from the Minnesota Family Investment Program Survey. I used a pooled logit model adjusting for cluster standard error. Also I estimated a mother specific fixed effects model in order to account for omitted variable bias and unobserved maternal characteristics. Baron and Kenney’s approach was used to test the mediating effects of economic stress on the association between material hardship and CPS involvement.
Results: Analyses from both pooled logit and fixed effect model suggest that material hardship is significantly associated with CPS involvement. In addition, the association between material hardship and CPS involvement was partially mediated by economic stress. After economic stress measures were entered into the models, the coefficient of material hardship is still significant but the size of the coefficient decreased. Also the economic stress is significantly associated with CPS involvement. The results suggest that material hardship affects CPS involvement in part through its effects on economic stress. Experiencing economic hardship may increase the level of economic pressure the mother perceived. Mothers who perceived their financial situations as being less adequate and who were pessimistic toward their future economic conditions were found to have a higher risk of becoming involved with CPS than mothers who perceived their financial situations were adequate and were optimistic about their future economic conditions.
Conclusions and Implications: This study helps further our understanding of how poverty experiences affect the risk of child maltreatment. Families who experience material hardship may be linked directly to CPS involvement due to a lack of financial resources to meet the child’s basic needs. Also, material hardship can be linked indirectly to CPS involvement through heightened economic stress. To reduce child maltreatment, it might be more effective to offer an economic support package, such as providing emergency money for food or housing, providing loans to create income generating opportunities, helping families apply for public benefits or jobs, and setting up financial literacy classes as well as financial stress treatment sessions to reduce subjective material hardship and objective economic stress.