Abstract: Assessing Child Neglect in the Context of Age, Race, and Household Financial Hardship (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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130P Assessing Child Neglect in the Context of Age, Race, and Household Financial Hardship

Friday, January 13, 2023
Phoenix C, 3rd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Brett Greenfield, MSW/MDiv, Ph.D. Candidate, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ
Cassandra Simmel, PhD, Associate Professor, Rutgers University, NJ
Brenda Jones Harden, PhD, Professor, University of Maryland at College Park, College Park, MD
Darcey Merritt, PhD, University of Chicago
Background and Purpose: Neglect, caregivers’ inability to meet children’s basic needs, provide adequate supervision, and protect from harm, is the most common form of child maltreatment. This research addressed developmental differences in child neglect reports, attending to how race/ethnicity and financial hardships affect this relationship, building upon literature suggesting that critical systemic, community, and family characteristics are associated with neglect.

Methods: Maltreatment reports for 3,150,015 children in the 2019 National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System (NCANDS) were analyzed, assessing differences in the occurrence of child neglect compared to other maltreatment types by children’s ages, race/ethnicity, and financial circumstances. Two multinomial logistic regression models were used to analyze differences among children of different maltreatment classifications: neglect only, single maltreatment (not neglect), poly-maltreatment (including neglect), and poly-maltreatment (no neglect). The first examined maltreatment classifications by age, race/ethnicity, controlling for other factors. The second used a subsample of 1,426,936 children who lived in select states that systematically collect financial hardship indicators in NCANDS, analyzing how financial circumstances are associated with maltreatment types.

Results: Approximately 46% of the sample were classified as neglected only, 36% single types of maltreatment (not neglect), 15% poly-maltreatment (including neglect), and 2% poly-maltreatment (no neglect). Age categories (i.e., 0-2, 3-6, 7-12, 13-17) were equitably distributed across the sample, which was diverse, although White, non-Hispanic children comprised 45% of the sample. In the financial hardship subsample, the average number of hardship indicators was .27 (SD=.54, range 0-3).

The first model showed older age groups, compared to youngest, had lower odds of experiencing neglect solely (OR=0.63, p<.001; OR=0.5, p<.001; OR=0.42, p<.001), as well as poly-maltreatment including neglect. Compared to White children, Black (non-Hispanic) children had lower odds of all maltreatment classifications compared to a single maltreatment type (not neglect) (Neglect only OR=0.92, p<.001; Poly-malt. (neglect) OR=0.87, p<.001; Poly-malt. (no neglect) OR=0.76, p<.001); children of all other races (non-Hispanic) had higher odds compared to White children. Hispanic children had lower odds of a neglect only classification (OR=0.92, p<.001), but greater odds of Poly-maltreatment classification with or without neglect.

The results of the second model were consistent with the first, also documenting increased financial hardships were associated with elevated neglect risk compared to single maltreatment (not neglect) (Neglect only OR=1.36, p<.001; Poly-malt. (with neglect) OR=1.40, p<.001). Hispanic children had greater odds than White children of being classified as neglect only when financial hardship indicators were included.

Discussion: Current neglect definitions are not developmentally sensitive to different vulnerabilities and experiences of children. The differences in neglect across racial/ethnic groups are important given racial disproportionality in child welfare systems. Black children had the lowest odds compared to White children to be reported for neglect only, which highlights the complex relationship between race and neglect. Black children experiencing neglect may be a function of racialized poverty, and assessed differently than White children. Findings also support that financial hardship is associated with elevated neglect risk. Better accounting for child development, race/ethnicity, and financial hardship in child welfare administrative data is a prudent step forward for research.