Objective: To review the literature on the relationships between neighborhoods and child maltreatment and identify future directions for research in this area.
Method: A search of electronic databases and a survey of experts yielded a list of 25 studies on the influence of geographically defined neighborhoods on child maltreatment. These studies were then critically reviewed by an interdisciplinary research team.
Results: Numerous studies demonstrate that child maltreatment cases are concentrated in disadvantaged areas. A number of socio-economic characteristics of neighborhoods have been shown to correlate with child maltreatment rates as measured by official reports to child protective service agencies. Only a few studies examine direct measures of parenting behaviors associated with maltreatment, and these show a weaker relationship with neighborhood disadvantage. Moreover, the processes that link neighborhood conditions to either maltreatment reports or parenting behaviors are not yet confirmed by the research literature. Selection bias, neighborhood definitions and spatial influences are largely uncontrolled in the existing research.
Conclusions: We propose a framework for pursuing further study of neighborhoods and child maltreatment that addresses the gaps in the current literature. Neighborhood-based strategies to prevent and reduce child maltreatment will be enhanced by research that provides a better understanding of how neighborhood conditions act as stressors or supports for families at risk of child maltreatment.