Research Watch

Child maltreatment: Neighborhood structural & social risk factors

Year of Publication
Date Reviewed
Reviewed By
Sydney Duder

(1) Maguire-Jack, K., & Wang, X. (2016). Pathways from neighborhood to neglect: The mediating effects of social support and parenting stress. Children and Youth Services Review, 66, 28-34.

(2) Maguire-Jack, K., & Font, S. A. (2017). Intersections of individual and neighborhood disadvantage: Implications for child maltreatment. Children and Youth Services Review, 72, 44-51.

(3) Maguire-Jack, K., & Font, S. A. (2017). Community and Individual Risk Factors for Physical Child Abuse and Child Neglect: Variations by Poverty Status. Child Maltreatment, 22(3), 215-226.


Earlier studies have reported the effects of various community factors—both structural and social—on rates of child abuse and neglect; these three studies provide additional insights. Data for the first two studies here were obtained from mothers in supplemental nutrition programs in Franklin County, Ohio, in 2014; data for the third study came from a general population telephone survey in 50 California cities.    

Neighborhood social variables (Study 1, N = 1,045):

The results of an elaborate multivariate analysis of predictors of neglect are shown in a detailed path diagram. Parental stress, shown as the most significant predictor of neglect, is significantly negatively correlated (p < .05) with two strongly linked social variables—neighborhood social cohesion and social support.

Relationship between family and neighborhood poverty (Study 2, N = 946):

Both family and neighborhood poverty levels were associated with higher maltreatment rates. High rates were found for poorer families, regardless of neighborhood poverty levels.  However, for better-off families, neighborhood poverty did make a difference; lower maltreatment rates were reported in better-off neighborhoods – possibly because these families were able to take advantage of better community resources.

Poverty and social supports (Study 3, N = 2,996):

Social factors were found to have a protective effect for higher-income – but not for lower-income – families. A high neighborhood poverty level was found to be especially detrimental for poor families. A useful feature of this study was the inclusion of a number of ideas for possible neighborhood strategies to reduce maltreatment. The authors suggest that “neighborhood-level interventions may be an important avenue for prevention” – either by “addressing the stressors of high-poverty neighborhoods” or “enhancing economic resources and opportunities of lower income families”.

Methodological Notes

A number of elaborate statistical procedures were used: structural equation modelling to analyze the effects of social factors on neglect; multilevel logistic regression models to examine the effects of different combinations of family and community poverty levels on maltreatment behaviour. In the third study separate models were constructed for high and low-income respondents, 3-level hierarchical logistic regression models were used, with cases nested between census tracts and cities.

Two different data sources were used in these studies. Data for Studies 1 and 2 came from 10-minute pencil and paper questionnaires, adapted from standard instruments, completed by low income mothers in nutrition clinic waiting-rooms; data for Study 3 came from a general population telephone survey in 50 California cities, “purposively sampled to maximise geography and ecology.” Similarities in the findings for Studies 2 and 3, even with these method differences, argue for the validity of this body of research.