Abstract: The Association between Family Physical Environment and Child Maltreatment (Society for Social Work and Research 26th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Racial, Social, and Political Justice)

111P The Association between Family Physical Environment and Child Maltreatment

Thursday, January 13, 2022
Marquis BR Salon 6, ML 2 (Marriott Marquis Washington, DC)
* noted as presenting author
Lixia Zhang, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Northern Iowa, IA
June-Yung Kim, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of North Dakota, ND
James Topitzes, PhD, Professor, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Milwaukee, WI
Background: Family environment includes both physical and social contexts within which family members grow and develop. A wealth of research has established the associations between family social factors (e.g., parental mental illness) and parenting behaviors. However, there is lack of research on how family physical environment (e.g., levels of chaos and deterioration) would impact parenting function. In recent years, a body of emerging research indicated that chaotic family physical environment was related to parent-child conflict, decreased parent-child closeness, and less parental emotional availability. Yet, no studies have examined if family physical environment is also related to child maltreatment. Moreover, most of the studies on family physical environment were cross-sectional, which limits causal inference. To address the research gaps, this study examined longitudinal data to evaluate the associations between family physical environment and child maltreatment behaviors.

Methods: This study utilized the U.S. Fragile Family and Child Well-Being Study (FFCWS) dataset. FFCWS is a birth cohort study of 4,898 children born in large U.S. cities between 1998 and 2000. Mothers and fathers were interviewed soon after their children’s birth, and follow-up interviews with both parents were conducted when children were 1, 3, 5, 9 and 15 years old. The study used family physical environment data collected when children were 3 year old, and child maltreatment data gathered when children were 5 years old.

Family physical environment was measured by the Infant-Toddler Child Care Home Observation of Environment (HOME), which include both family interior (inside home) and exterior (street conditions near home) environment subscales. Child maltreatment data were drawn from mothers’ responses to the Conflict Tactics Scale: Parent Child Version (CTS-PC), which includes 3 subscales: physical abuse, emotional abuse and neglect. Child sexual abuse was measured by a single question: If child protective services had concern about the family’s child sexual abuse.

Statistical analyses were performed using SPSS version 24. Descriptive analyses were conducted for all study variables. Multivariate logistic regression models were run to test if family interior or exterior environment would predict different types of child maltreatment respectively. All multivariate regression models controlled for child gender, maternal age, race/ethnicity, education, income, and family social factors such as children’s adverse childhood experiences at age 3.

Results: Regression results indicated that family exterior environment was not related with any type of child maltreatment. However, family interior environment was significantly associated with child emotional abuse (OR = 1.12; 95% CI = 1.01-1.24) and neglect (OR = 1.10; 95% CI = 1.02-1.20), but not with physical abuse (OR = 1.03; 95% CI = .94-1.13) and sexual abuse (OR =.78; 95% CI = .54 -1.13).

Conclusions: In this national at-risk sample, we found that there was significant impact of family interior environment on child maltreatment behaviors. Results suggest that improving physical household problems could help prevent initial or ongoing forms of child maltreatment, namely emotional abuse and neglect. Further research is needed to examine mechanisms such as parenting stress that may explain the linkage between family interior environment and child maltreatment.