Child maltreatment reporting in the general population: Examining the roles of community, collective efficacy, and adverse childhood experiences

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Child Abuse and Neglect





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According to bystander theory, factors such as the community environment, collective efficacy, and history of adverse childhood experiences could be related to likelihood of reporting or intervening against maltreatment. An online survey was conducted with 946 general population Californians obtained through mixed-mode random probability and quota-based recruitment methods. Using an experimental vignette design, participants were randomly assigned to two scenarios: a) potential child abuse occurring in their neighborhood; b) potential child abuse in an unfamiliar neighborhood. Weighted multivariate logistic regression models assessed relationships between the vignette condition, collective efficacy, appraisal of the behavior, and likelihood of reporting or intervening. The results suggested that perceiving the vignette as occurring in your own neighborhood was associated with lower odds of viewing the behavior as appropriate and considering it abusive. Higher collective efficacy scores were associated with lower odds of viewing the incident as inappropriate but higher odds of personally intervening. Adverse childhood experiences were positively related to reporting the incident to child protective services and intervening. Bystanders may be more likely to give parents in their own neighborhood “the benefit of the doubt” by viewing their abusive behaviors as less severe, potentially leading to underreporting. Neighborhood collective efficacy might increase willingness to personally intervene, but not contact systems such as child protective services or police, suggesting that enhanced trust in communities does not extend to these institutions. Our findings have implications for neighborhood and education interventions to enhance understanding of and willingness to intervene on behalf of children.


Child maltreatment reporting, Collective efficacy, Community, Experimental studies


Social Work