County Spending On Maltreatment Prevention Programs and Individual Risk for Maltreatment
Of the approximately 30 studies on neighborhoods and maltreatment, only five studies were identified that utilized hierarchical linear modeling (HLM) to appropriately measure characteristics at both the individual and neighborhood levels. The use of HLM is extremely important for conducting ecological studies that seek to estimate the impact of contextual variables on individuals. These five studies found that neighborhood impoverishment was associated with maltreatment. Despite the emphasis of these studies on the community context, no attention has yet been paid to the prevention program service array. This study answers the following research question: Is spending on child maltreatment prevention programs within the county in which a family lives associated with their maltreatment levels?
Using primary survey data collected from families on maltreatment risks, data collected from prevention programs across the state of Wisconsin and secondary data from the U.S. Census and American Community Survey, this study includes a series of hierarchical linear models with approximately 1,000 families nested within 20 Wisconsin counties to examine the association between county maltreatment prevention spending and individual risk for maltreatment. The key independent variable is county spending on prevention programs and the key dependent variable is whether an individual had a child protective services (CPS) investigation. County independent variables include socioeconomic disadvantage (impoverishment), childcare burden (ratio of children to available caretakers), and instability (individuals moving in and out of the county). Individual independent variables include family structure, number of children, whether a family moved more than 1 time in the past 12 months, parenting stress, material hardship, and social support.
The results show that after controlling for measured individual and county characteristics, the amount a county spends on maltreatment prevention is associated with lower individual risk for maltreatment. At the individual level, being a single parent and having a greater number of children were associated with higher individual risk for maltreatment. Additionally, although community impoverishment was previously found to be associated with maltreatment, it was not significant in this study. This finding is likely due to a modifiable aerial unit problem –a county may be too big of a geographic area to detect differences in community characteristics affecting families.
Conclusions and Implications:
These findings suggest that higher investments in child maltreatment prevention will decrease an individual family’s risk for maltreatment. Additional studies should be conducted to understand the nuances of individual prevention programs in terms of services provided, quality of programs, and number of programs and their relationship with maltreatment. Such information would be extremely useful in policy decisions around which programs to fund, but was unable to be discerned from the study at hand because of a lack of variation in these areas across the state of Wisconsin.