Background: Families who experience substance use, depression, unemployment, and poverty are more likely to experience child maltreatment. The ecological model suggests that factors exist at different levels of the social ecology including the individual, relationship, community, and societal level that influence child and family relations like maltreatment. Although much of the literature has focused on individual and family risk factors for maltreatment, there is a significant body of work dedicated to understanding influences at higher levels of the social ecology.
Many studies have relied on social disorganization theory to provide a framework for understanding how neighborhoods might contribute to maltreatment. Distressed neighborhoods might put parents at additional risk for maltreatment because of the multiple stressors they provide and the lack of social norms that provide a supportive environment for positive parenting.
The neighborhoods in which parents live have the ability to support or hinder positive parenting practices. Prior research on the community context of child maltreatment has found evidence of a relationship between maltreatment and rates of community poverty, unemployment, residential instability, childcare burden, alcohol and drug availability, and immigrant concentration. The current symposium focuses on positiveaspects of neighborhoods, to understand the potentially protective role these factors may have in preventing child maltreatment.
Significance: Neighborhoods are a significant potential intervention source for preventing child maltreatment. While the vast majority of programs have focused on the individual parent- and family-level, community-wide prevention efforts may also reduce maltreatment and improve other child outcomes, without requiring parents to attend time-intensive parenting classes. The studies included in this symposium seek to understand different positive aspects of neighborhoods and how they relate to child maltreatment behaviors. It is crucial to understand the pathways through which neighborhoods can positively influence parents and families in order to leverage resources and attention appropriately to prevent maltreatment. By improving relations among neighbors, increasing availability of social services, increasing parent knowledge of services, and improving accessibility of services, social workers have the opportunity to make a significant impact on reducing child maltreatment.