In the first study to compare national data on the rate of rural versus large urban child maltreatment reports, researchers found that kids living in the country are about one-third more likely to be reported to authorities, but the rate of substantiation was about the same in both settings.
The study, which also examined whether reporters were professional or nonprofessional, as well as service outcomes, showed that reports by nonprofessionals in an urban setting were more likely to result in a foster care placement than were those of their rural colleagues. Teachers, lawyers, cops, social service workers, health care workers and the like were classified as professionals, while relatives, parents, friends, neighbors and alleged victims, among others, were categorized as nonprofessional reporters.
The authors, Kathryn Maguire-Jack of the University of Michigan and Hyunil Kim of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, looked at data from the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System from 2003-2017. They noted that the study arrives after a 23% increase in annual child maltreatment reporting in the decade ending in 2018.
In the report, which appeared in the January issue of Children and Youth Services Review, Maguire-Jack and Kim speculated about some of the possible reasons for the differences but wrote, “More research is needed to delve into the drivers of these differences.”
The authors said their study indicates that the child welfare system should put more emphasis on maltreatment prevention services in rural areas. Professionals will need to get creative in addressing the problem because transportation options are limited in sparsely populated areas.
Maguire-Jack and Kim also reported that it’s “critical” to understand why foster care entry is lower in rural areas compared to urban areas. Can this be explained by the relative lack of foster homes? Or is it that rural areas tend to have larger extended kin networks?
Teasing this out may should help inform policy decisions, they said.