Abstract: Social Contextual Differences in Neighborhood Areas with Atypically High and Atypically Low Rates of Child Maltreatment Referrals (Society for Social Work and Research 21st Annual Conference - Ensure Healthy Development for all Youth)

Social Contextual Differences in Neighborhood Areas with Atypically High and Atypically Low Rates of Child Maltreatment Referrals

Friday, January 13, 2017: 4:30 PM
Preservation Hall Studio 3 (New Orleans Marriott)
* noted as presenting author
Michael Hurlburt, PhD, Associate Professor, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA
Amy He, PhD, PhD Candidate, University of Southern California, Denver, CO
Megan Finno-Velasquez, PhD, Assistant Professor, New Mexico State University, Albuquerque, NM
Ruth Supranovich, MSW, Clinical Associate Professor, Field Education, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA
Background: Child maltreatment remains an urgent social welfare and public health dilemma. There is growing recognition that the long-term challenge of child maltreatment requires increased attention to primary prevention and to understanding the ecological context in which maltreatment occurs. Drawing on a framework outlined by Coulton and colleagues (2007), this presentation examines several contextual factors that (a) may affect actual maltreatment rates in local neighborhood areas, including collective efficacy among residents and the occurrence of related social problems and their effects on local residents; and (b) may affect the probability that concerns for children’s wellbeing are reported by local residents.

Methods: Data are derived from a study of Southern California neighborhoods with highly atypical normalized child maltreatment rates.  Using spatial regression models, thirty neighborhoods were identified in San Diego and Los Angeles Counties with maltreatment referral rates much higher (N=15 census tracts) and much lower (N=15) than expected after controlling for tract-level indicators of concentrated disadvantage.  Tracts in the two groups had similar average predicted maltreatment referral rates but very different actual referral rates in 2013/14.

Fifteen randomly selected adult residents in each census tract (N=450 total), were interviewed utilizing a structured interview. Topics of attention in this presentation focus on local social dynamics among residents (collective efficacy and extended questions related to collective attention to issues affecting children’s wellbeing), resident perceptions of relationships with government organizations (e.g., police and social services), concerns about a range of local social issues in the neighborhood, and about effects of those issues on personal wellbeing. Anonymous interviews in English and Spanish occurred at local residences.

Differences between areas with atypically high and low child maltreatment referral rates were assessed with multilevel models using Stata.

Results: Confirming results from some prior studies, resident perceptions of collective efficacy clustered within neighborhoods, for all residents within neighborhoods and just residents with children (ICCs>=.06).  Areas with higher rates of maltreatment had lower collective efficacy. Neighborhood areas differed much more substantially with respect to residents’ perceptions of other social issues (violence, alcohol, drugs, gangs) and their personal impacts. Resident perceptions clustered very strongly (ICCs >=.15), particularly so among adults with children. Neighborhoods with atypically high referral rates were perceived as much more dangerous than those with low referral rates. Resident responses did not cluster regarding perceptions of trust in government organizations and did not differ by neighborhood groupings.

Implications: Even after controlling for variables measuring concentrated disadvantage that accounted for 50% of the variance in neighborhood maltreatment referral rates, resident perceptions of neighborhood environments differed substantially in areas with unusually high and low normalized maltreatment rates, suggesting real environmental and cultural differences in local social contexts that may influence the prevalence of child maltreatment. Although resident perceptions of collective efficacy also differed between the two neighborhood groups, differences were much smaller. One important construct that might affect residents’ willingness to report concerns for children’s wellbeing did not differ by the neighborhood groups. Results have a number of implications for prevention strategies, which will be discussed.