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$2.3M study to examine how neighborhoods influence child maltreatment rates

The Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development awarded a $2.3 million grant to three Case Western Reserve University schools and colleges. The team of researchers will study child maltreatment in 20 Cleveland neighborhoods, examining the role that neighborhood conditions; social service availability and use; and the maltreatment reporting process play in influencing child abuse and neglect rates.

"Neighborhoods can differ greatly in the level of child maltreatment that occurs in them over time. Experts are unclear about the specific role that conditions such as concentrated poverty, residential turnover, social cohesion among residents, and the use of services, such as home visits and income support, play in the more than 680,000 cases of abuse and neglect that occur nationwide every year," said Jim Spilsbury, PhD, MPH, principal investigator of the study and assistant professor of general medical sciences at the School of Medicine. "Our four-year study will be a window into the complex world of maltreatment, shedding light on what drives changes in maltreatment rates."

The study results will identify factors tied to reduced abuse and neglect, potentially highlighting new targets for interventions at the neighborhood level, and thereby providing guidance to policy makers and the community leaders responsible for implementing programs to reduce child maltreatment for Cleveland and other urban areas nationwide.

"Existing research suggests that neighborhood conditions can have important effects on how children are raised," added co-investigator Jill Korbin, PhD, professor of anthropology, associate dean, director of the Schubert Center for Child Studies in the College of Arts and Sciences.

To assess how maltreatment rates are affected, local residents will be interviewed about their opinions of their neighborhood culture and their views on maltreatment. Also, the investigators are partnering with Cuyahoga County's Division of Children and Family Services to interview caseworkers assigned to the studied neighborhoods. Census data, property records, social service reports and day care records will also be analyzed.

The study is a collaboration between the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences, the College of Arts and Sciences, and the School of Medicine at Case Western Reserve.

"Cleveland is uniquely positioned to conduct the study because of our data availability which spans more than twenty years and comes from a variety of sources, as well as the city's variability in maltreatment rates across neighborhoods," said co-investigator Claudia Coulton, PhD, the Lillian F. Harris Professor of Urban Research & Social Change and co-director of Center on Urban Poverty and Community Development at the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences.

The research builds upon a National Center for Child Abuse and Neglect-funded study conducted in the mid-1990s by Coulton and Korbin; Spilsbury was a member of the research team while earning his doctoral degree. The investigators found that Cleveland neighborhood rates of child maltreatment varied widely and that neighborhood conditions such as high childcare burden, concentrated poverty and residential instability had an impact on the presence or lack of child maltreatment.

"For the most part, child maltreatment research has been on the individual level with parents and families. Our study will take a step back and look at the bigger picture, to determine what can be done with services in a larger context to reduce rates," said co-investigator David Crampton, PhD, associate professor of social work and associate director of the Center on Urban Poverty and Community Development at the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences. "Identifying ways to enhance connections among neighbors and improve services on a neighborhood level could have an ultimate impact on reducing child maltreatment."

Contact: Jessica Studeny
Case Western Reserve University

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