Abstract: Associations between Childhood Exposure to Community Violence, Child Maltreatment and School Outcomes (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

Associations between Childhood Exposure to Community Violence, Child Maltreatment and School Outcomes

Saturday, January 18, 2020
Marquis BR Salon 7, ML 2 (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Samantha Schneider, PhD, Adjunct Faculty/Clinical Practitioner, Simmons College, Boston, MA
Background and Purpose: Community violence is often conceptualized as direct victimization or indirect witnessing of violent events within an individual's proximal environment, such as in the vicinity of one’s neighborhood or school. The prevalence of community violence exposure (CVE) is estimated at nearly 40% nationally, and it is an especially common experience for low-income populations in urban areas (Zinzow, 2009). Children who experience CVE are often exposed to child maltreatment and other household adversities, though it is uncertain whether CVE has a significant impact on child development net of the effects of more proximal adversities. This study examined whether (1) physical abuse and CVE at age 5 were independently associated with academic performance at age 9, (2) these effects were mediated by externalizing and internalizing behaviors, and (3) the effects of CVE on mental health and academic performance were observed after accounting for the effects of physical abuse.


Methods: Data were drawn from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study (FFCWS), a longitudinal investigation of a stratified, multistage, probability sample of children born in large U.S. cities between 1998 and 2000. The analytic sample of 1,383 participants is limited to children for whom we have information on CVE (parent report), physical abuse (parent report), and school performance (teacher report). For CVE, the primary caregiver was asked questions on amount of exposure to physical fighting, attacks with weapons, shootings and/or killings in the past year. Bayesian factor analysis was conducted in Mplus to form latent factors for internalizing behavior, externalizing behavior, and academic performance. Path analysis, controlling for demographic factors, was then used to examine direct and indirect associations between CVE, internalizing and externalizing behaviors, and academic performance.


Results: (1) CVE at age 5 was independently negatively associated with academic performance at age 9. Physical abuse at age 5 was not independently associated with academic performance at age 9. (2) The effects of CVE and physical abuse on academic performance were mediated by externalizing behavior, and not internalizing behavior. (3) When all variables were entered simultaneously, the hypothesized path model fit the data well (RMSEA =0.00, CFI=1.0, TFI=1.0). CVE, externalizing behavior, and internalizing behavior all had a direct negative association with academic performance, after accounting for the effects of physical abuse on externalizing behavior.


Conclusions and Implications: The findings confirmed that community violence has a negative impact on school performance above and beyond the effects of interpersonal violence. The negative direct association between CVE at age 5 and academic performance at age 9 holds when physical abuse is removed from the model; furthermore, CVE was directly associated with both behavior and academic performance. These findings reinforce the need for community wide prevention programs that reduce violence.  More specifically, violence prevention initiatives often target older youth and young adults. These findings suggest that more attention needs to be paid to how younger children are impacted by CVE, both through their own experiences or the experiences of their caregivers.