Methods: The current study used data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study (FFCWS). FFCWS is a longitudinal study of 4,898 families from 20 large urban cities. Data were collected at the time of the child’s birth, and again at ages 1, 3, 5, 9, and 15. The sample was restricted to children who had been maltreated by age 9, which was determined using three subscales of the Conflict Tactics Scale – Parent to Child Version, psychological aggression, physical assault, and neglect. We included children who experienced any behaviors from these subscales prior to age 9. Our dependent variables included externalizing behavior problems, internalizing behavior problems, and adaptive social behavior. The first two outcomes were measured using the Child Behavior Checklist while the third was assessed using the Adaptive Social Behavior Inventory. Our independent variables were mother-child closeness, neighborhood social cohesion (trust and bonds between neighbors), informal social control (willingness of neighbors to intervene on behalf of the common good), neighborhood violence, neighborhood poverty, school connectedness, and peer bullying. We controlled for economic hardship, race and gender of child, maternal age, education, and marital status. We ran a series of linear regressions to predict our outcomes.
Results: For child externalizing, we found that neighborhood social cohesion served a protective role. Neighborhood exposure to violence and peer bullying increased externalizing problems among maltreated children. For child internalizing, we found that neighborhood social cohesion and school connectedness both served a protective role. Neighborhood exposure to violence and peer bullying were related to increased internalizing problems among maltreated children. Finally, for adaptive social behavior, we found that social control and school connectedness both increased positive behaviors while neighborhood poverty decreased them.
Conclusions/Implications: Neighborhood exposure to violence and peer bullying may be a significant risk factor for poor behavioral outcomes in children who experienced maltreatment. The current study findings suggest that social cohesion and social control within the neighborhood context and school connectedness may serve as protective factors that buffer the impacts of child maltreatment. While targeting risk factors is essential when developing programs and interventions to support children who have experienced maltreatment, promoting protective factors associated with resilience may also be crucial to foster optimal development among these children. Our findings suggest that increasing social connectedness and social control within neighborhoods and strengthening school connectedness may be influential points of interventions in mitigating the impacts of maltreatment on children's behavior and promoting positive youth development.