Methods: This study uses multilevel structural equation modeling, which combines both structural equation modeling and multilevel modeling to test how a latent construct of socioeconomic vulnerability across the entire province of Quebec’s 10 650 neighbourhoods, nested within 166 community health and social service regions, is connected to child protection intervention for neglect. Neighbourhoods and health and social service regions in this study is defined and discretely organized by using provincial and municipal boundaries relating to the organization and delivery of government services. The rate of child protection intervention for substantiation of neglect is calculated per 1000 children aged 0 to 9 years, for the years 2006 to 2016, inclusively. This rate of child protection intervention for neglect, across all neighbourhoods in the province, is the dependent variable in this study. The socioeconomic data for each of the neighbourhoods and health and social service regions was drawn from the 2006 Canadian census and the 2011 Canadian National Household Survey and then matched to provincial administrative child protection data using full alphanumeric postal codes (e.g. XIX XIX) and community identification numbers. Spatial and population structures were accounted for by considering the child population density as a function of the number of children aged 0 to 9 years per square kilometer. This detail allows us to observe differential effects of child population density on the relationship between socioeconomic vulnerability and child protection intervention for reasons of neglect. Model fit evaluations (CFI and RMSEA) were conducted and results suggested acceptable model fit.
Results: Overall results suggest direct effects of socioeconomic vulnerability on the increased likelihood of child protection intervention for neglect. However, socioeconomic latency is most linear in the lowest density neighbourhoods, suggesting that increased vulnerability to investigation for neglect is based on the geographic spread of the child population.
Conclusions/Implications: The association between socioeconomic vulnerability and neglect is not surprising but this relationship varies in strength according to child population density. The finding of strongest linearity between socioeconomic vulnerability and neglect in the lowest density neighbourhoods suggests that the corresponding absence and remoteness of community family support services may indicate that child protection intervention for neglect is a stand-in for prevention services that may otherwise be available in high child population and service dense neighbourhoods. Implications of this study are that increased availability and accessibility of community family support services in low-density neighbourhoods may divert socioeconomically vulnerable families from child protection intervention for neglect.