Neighborhood-level social processes and substantiated cases of child maltreatment
Child maltreatment is a preventable public health problem. Research has demonstrated that neighborhood structural factors (e.g. poverty, crime) can influence the proportion of a neighborhood's children who are victims of maltreatment. A newer strategy is the identification of potentially modifiable social processes at the neighborhood level that can also influence maltreatment. Toward this end, this study examines neighborhood-level data (maltreatment cases substantiated by Illinois’ child protection agency, 1995–2005, social processes measured by the Project on Human Development in Chicago Neighborhoods, U.S. Census data, proportions of neighborhoods on public assistance, and crime data) that were linked across clusters of contiguous, relatively homogenous Chicago, IL census tracts with respect to racial/ethnic and socioeconomic composition. Our analysis—an ecological-level, repeated cross-sectional design utilizing random-intercept logit models—with a sensitivity analysis using spatial models to control for spatial autocorrelation—revealed consistent associations between neighborhood social processes and maltreatment. Neighborhoods higher in collective efficacy, intergenerational closure, and social networks, and lower in disorder had lower proportions of neglect, physical abuse, and sexual abuse substantiated cases, controlling for differences in structural factors. Higher collective efficacy and social network size also predicted a lower proportion of substance-exposed infants. This research indicates that strategies to mobilize neighborhood-level protective factors may decrease child maltreatment more effectively than individual and family-focused efforts alone.