Perceptions of Danger, Tolerance of Delinquency and Economic Disadvantage: Examining Neighborhood Influences on Child Physical Abuse


Background Social disorganization theory posits that both structural and social features of a particular geographic unit are associated with criminal behavior. Despite many tests of social disorganization theory, few studies have assessed its relevance to child abuse. Objective This study seeks to explain neighborhood variation in child maltreatment. The goal of the current study is to fill this gap by investigating whether or not child physical abuse is related to neighborhood economic disadvantage, perceptions of the dangerousness of the neighborhood, and norms regarding delinquency. Participants and Setting Data were drawn from the Project on Human Development in Chicago Neighborhoods (PHDCN) and included 2364 respondents from 79 neighborhoods. The dependent variable, the variety or number of acts of severe child physical abuse, was reported by caregivers, while neighborhood characteristics were based on information from the U.S. Census Data and adult respondents living in Chicago neighborhoods. Methods A multilevel, over-dispersed, Poisson regression models were utilized to predict the variety of acts of severe physical abuse that a child living within a given neighborhood would experience. Results Neighborhood economic disadvantage was not significantly associated with greater variety of physical abuse. However, neighborhoods perceived as dangerous had greater variety of physical abuse (b = .25, p < .05), while those with a greater tolerance for deviance had somewhat lower variety of physical abuse (b= −.69, p ≤ .10). Conclusions These results suggest that some contextual factors may help explain child maltreatment and should be subject to additional research.


Criminology and Criminal Justice

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child abuse, neighborhoods, culture, dangerousness, social disorganization

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Journal Title

Child Abuse & Neglect