Objective: To better understand how neighborhood and individual factors are related to child maltreatment.
Method: Using an ecological framework, a multi-level model (Hierarchical Linear Modeling) was used to analyze neighborhood structural conditions and individual risk factors for child abuse and neglect. Parents (n = 400) of children under the age of 18 were systematically selected from 20 randomly selected census-defined block groups with different risk profiles for child maltreatment report rates. Parents were administered the Neighborhood Environment for Children Rating Scales, the Child Abuse Potential Inventory, the Zimet measure of social support, and the Conflict Tactics Scales as a measure of childhood experience with violence.
Results: Neighborhood factors of impoverishment and child care burden significantly affect child abuse potential after controlling for individual risk factors. However, neighborhood effects are weaker than they appear to be in aggregate studies of official child maltreatment reports. Variation in child abuse potential within neighborhoods is greater than between neighborhoods. However, adverse neighborhood conditions weakend the effects of known individual risk and protective factors, such as violence in the family of origin.
Conclusions: If individual potential for child maltreatment is more evenly distributed across neighborhoods than reported maltreatment, then neighborhood and community play an important, if as yet unspecified, role in child maltreatment. Multi-level models are a promising research strategy for disentangling the complex interactions of individual and contextual factors in child maltreatment.