Family Matters: Examining Child Abuse and Neglect as Family Dysfunction for Minority Youth Living in Extreme Poverty

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Two competing models of child abuse and neglect (scapegoat vs. family dysfunction) are used to illustrate how the specification of victims (“index” victim vs. all children in household) from incidents of child abuse and neglect can be used to improve estimates of maltreatment for at-risk minority youth. Child Protection Services records were searched in 2005 for 366 “index” victims who were surveyed for 5 consecutive years (from 1998 to 2002) for the Mobile Youth Survey as well as other siblings in the household. The findings indicate that the baseline estimate of any maltreatment, sexual abuse, physical abuse, and neglect increased by 68%, 26%, 33%, and 74%, respectively, after adjusting for incidents that involved multiple victims (i.e., maltreatment as family dysfunction). In addition, the baseline estimate of more severe (indicated) incidents of physical abuse and neglect increased by 67% and 64%, respectively, after accounting for incidents that involved multiple victims, but there were no incidents of more severe (indicated) sexual abuse that involved multiple victims. Similarly, baseline estimates of age of onset (or chronicity) of maltreatment during childhood and adolescence increased by 62% and 26%, respectively. Baseline estimates for youth with 3 or more years of maltreatment and youth with 3 or more incidents of maltreatment both increased by about 71%. The implications of these findings for policy and practice as well as areas for future research are also discussed.

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