Abstract: Neighborhoods and Risk for Maltreatment: A Multilevel Study (Society for Social Work and Research 20th Annual Conference - Grand Challenges for Social Work: Setting a Research Agenda for the Future)

Neighborhoods and Risk for Maltreatment: A Multilevel Study

Friday, January 15, 2016: 2:45 PM
Ballroom Level-Renaissance Ballroom West Salon A (Renaissance Washington, DC Downtown Hotel)
* noted as presenting author
Elizabeth A. Shuey, PhD, Doris Duke Fellow for the Promotion of Child Well-Being, Tufts University, Medford, MA
Tama Leventhal, PhD, Associate Professor, Tufts University, Medford, MA
Background and Purpose: Ample evidence indicates risk for child maltreatment is tied to neighborhood characteristics. Yet, few studies look at neighborhood-level features and individual parents’ risk for child maltreatment, so processes linking neighborhoods to individual outcomes remain unclear. In a notable exception, Molnar and colleagues (2003) found that the presence of dense networks of friends and kin in neighborhoods was associated with parents’ lower use of physical discipline with their children. Unfortunately, due to rising neighborhood economic segregation, families often face extreme inequalities in their neighborhoods, including unequal access to support networks and community resources.

This study extends past research on neighborhoods and risk for child maltreatment by identifying mechanisms through which neighborhood socioeoconomic conditions may be associated with harsh parenting, which can threaten a child’s opportunity for a good and healthy start. We focus on neighborhood-level social processes that are theorized to link neighborhood socioeconomic conditions to individual outcomes, and on young children, who are at greatest risk for maltreatment.

Methods: This study fit multilevel path models to examine how neighborhoods shape parenting behaviors, controlling for a host of individual family characteristics. Data were drawn from the Project on Human Development in Chicago Neighborhoods, a multilevel, longitudinal study. We utilize data from the 3-year cohort at the first wave of data collection to examine parenting behaviors before children enter formal schooling (N = 999). Home-based interviews were conducted with children’s mothers, who reported on their use of physical discipline techniques (Parent-Child Conflict Tactics Scale), and interviewers rated mothers’ warm and harsh behaviors (HOME). An independent Community Survey was conducted in the same neighborhoods, allowing neighborhood-level assessments of collective efficacy (a combination of social control and cohesion among neighbors) and availability of resources for children (e.g., mental health services). These survey data were used in conjunction with U.S. Census data on neighborhood concentrated poverty, concentrated affluence, and residential stability. We included separate measures of concentrated poverty and concentrated affluence because each may have differential associations with parenting behaviors, facilitating different pathways of risk and protection.

Results: Results of this model revealed that greater concentrated poverty was associated with lower collective efficacy. In contrast, greater concentrated affluence was associated with greater collective efficacy, as well as greater availability of resources for children. Only availability of resources for children in the neighborhood was linked with parents’ lower reports of physically aggressive approaches to discipline, and the indirect pathway from neighborhood concentrated affluence to parenting via availability of resources for children was significant.

Conclusion: These results highlight the importance of increasing families’ exposure to affluence, rather than simply limiting exposure to poverty, as a key approach to promoting family well-being, preventing child maltreatment, and addressing the Grand Challenge of reversing extreme inequality. Understanding the type and quality of services available to families in diverse neighborhoods is another critical strategy for facilitating parents’ access to the resources necessary for them to meet the Grand Challenge of ensuring a good and healthy start for their children.