Academic journal article Social Work

Understanding the Geospatial Relationship of Neighborhood Characteristics and Rates of Maltreatment for Black, Hispanic, and White Children

Academic journal article Social Work

Understanding the Geospatial Relationship of Neighborhood Characteristics and Rates of Maltreatment for Black, Hispanic, and White Children

Article excerpt

Child welfare professionals and researchers alike are concerned with the overrepresentation of racial and ethnic minority children involved in the child welfare system. For example, black children are 51 percent more likely to be removed from their home due to child maltreatment than are white children (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services [HHS], 2004). According to Needell and colleagues (2003), this disparity could be due to at least three factors: differences in the child welfare needs of different racial and ethnic groups, discrimination by society, and discriminatory practices of child welfare workers. This debate over and interest in the reasons for overrepresentation of racial and ethnic minorities in the child welfare system continues to be of concern to professions who seek to explain, prevent, and intervene in those conditions that lead to such disparities. It is interesting that general population studies of child maltreatment have found that after controlling for family demographics, no differences exist in rates of child abuse and neglect by race or ethnicity (Sedlak & Broadhurst, 1996).This suggests that factors related to discrimination, as suggested earlier, are at play, at least on some level.

Providing additional evidence that bias may explain, at least in part, this overrepresentation is a study of substantiated maltreatment rates for Minnesota that explored the role of geography in this debate (Ards, Myers, Malkis, Sugrue, & Zhou, 2003). This study found disparities in child maltreatment rates even after controlling for information on victims, offenders, and counties. Furthermore, overrepresentation can be inflated depending on which level of aggregation is examined. For example, this study also showed that although these disparities exist, lower level of geographic aggregation (for example, county compared with state) provided a better estimate of the true overrepresentation of racial and ethnic minority children. To that end, the present study examines how neighborhood characteristics are related to substantiated rates of child maltreatment for black, Hispanic, and white children at the census tract level for three counties in California.

Substantial research on how the neighborhood environment is related to rates of child maltreatment has been conducted over the past 30 years. These studies have found that higher rates of poverty (Coulton, Korbin, & Su, 1999; Coulton, Korbin, Su, & Chow, 1995; Deccio, Horner, & Wilson, 1994; Drake & Pandey, 1996; Young & Gately, 1988), less social support (Garbarino & Kostelny, 1992; Vinson, Baldry, & Hargreaves, 1996), higher rates of neighborhood unemployment (Gillham et al., 1998; Zuravin, 1986), greater residential instability (Coulton et al., 1995; Deccio et al., 1994; Ernst, 2001; Young & Gately; Zuravin), lower immigrant concentration (Molnar, Buka, Brennan, Holton, & Earls, 2003), more people per room (Zuravin), and greater alcohol outlet densities, particularly bars and off-premise outlets (Freisthler, 2004; Freisthler, Midanik, & Gruenewald, 2004), are associated with higher rates of child abuse and neglect.

Generally missing from most studies of neighborhood rates of child maltreatment is a discussion of race or ethnicity. One problem in examining child maltreatment by race is that race and poverty often are entangled. Because neglect is more likely to occur in families with fewer resources to provide for their children, neglect allegations are frequently made when children are not provided with basic needs, such as food, shelter, or clothing. This is one reason members of racial and ethnic minority groups who have higher rates of poverty are overrepresented in the child welfare system (HHS, 2004).Two studies specifically examined the relationship between race and ethnicity and child abuse and neglect in neighborhoods using different methods. The first, Spearly and Lauderdale (1983), studied how economic and social impoverishment were related to rates of child abuse and neglect for three different racial or ethnic subgroups in Texas. …

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