Understanding the ecology of child maltreatment: A review of the literature and directions for future research

Bridget Freisthler, Darcey H. Merritt, Elizabeth A. Lascala

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Studies examining neighborhood characteristics in relation to social problems, including child maltreatment, have proliferated in the past 25 years. This article reviews the current state of knowledge of ecological studies of child maltreatment. Taken as a whole, these 18 studies document a stable ecological relationship among neighborhood impoverishment, housing stress, and rates of child maltreatment, as well as some evidence that unemployment, child care burden, and alcohol availability may contribute to child abuse and neglect. The authors include a discussion of methodological difficulties in conducting research at the neighborhood level and present a set of recommendations for future research that emphasizes movement from a simple examination of neighborhood-level characteristics toward a theoretically driven explication of processes and mechanisms supported by appropriate multilevel modeling techniques. The final goal of such efforts would be to enable practitioners to develop evidence-based neighborhood interventions that would prevent and reduce child abuse and neglect.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)263-280
Number of pages18
JournalChild Maltreatment
Issue number3
StatePublished - Aug 2006


  • Child maltreatment
  • Literature review
  • Neighborhoods
  • Spatial analysis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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