In low-income families with children, the likelihood of a child being physically or psychologically abused increases when parents do not know how they will pay for their home month to month, according to Katherine Marcal, an assistant professor in the UNLV School of Social Work.
She cautions against the assumption that low-income people are more likely to abuse children. Rather, she implores policymakers to consider how various socioeconomic factors can contribute to the maltreatment of children. The real takeaway, she says, is that addressing housing affordability will help address other social issues.
Citing data from her new article analyzing the relationship between affordable housing and its risks associated with maltreatment of children, Marcal said housing affordability reduces the risks of psychological and physical mistreatment.
“Affordable housing is child maltreatment prevention,” she said. Regarding maltreatment risk, she explained that “This study is telling us that worry and anxiety about paying your bills is having the most harmful effect.”
The article, “Domains of Housing insecurity: Associations with child maltreatment risk,” appears in the September 2022 journal “Child Abuse & Neglect.”
The research provides a new direction in the research about the benefits to ensuring affordable housing is available for low-income families, said Marcal, who is also a Doris Duke fellow for the Child Well-Being Research Network.
Marcal used data for this study from the Princeton University Fragile Families and Child Well-being Study which conducted a large, longitudinal survey that recruited mothers in hospitals shortly after giving birth in 20 large American cities from 1998 to 2000. Surveyors conducted follow-up interviews with mothers over 15 years between 2000-2015. The study intentionally oversampled unmarried parents, and the sample skewed low-income and nonwhite.
Marcal tested for specific factors in housing and child maltreatment. The housing categories she looked at are: quality, stability, and affordability. The categories of maltreatment studied were: psychological abuse, physical abuse, and neglect of children.
Marcal offers solutions for decision makers and advocates of affordable housing:
- Having cities zoned for affordable homes.
- Ensuring evictions do not stay on an individual’s record for a long time so they can get approved for a lease
- Advocating for caps to rent increases.
- Working with landlords in tandem to produce fair policies so that renters can afford their home and landlords can afford to pay for the mortgages.
In the article, Marcal writes that the “scarcity of affordable housing threatens family functioning and child well-being. Families who struggle to afford housing display increased child maltreatment, which can lead to child welfare and criminal justice involvement, ongoing maternal and child trauma, and strain on the public child-serving system.”
Nevada’s Affordable Housing Shortage
This research can have implications for the state of Nevada. According to the Nevada Housing Coalition, which cites research from the National Low Income Housing Coalition’s April 20222 report:
- about 81.5 percent of “extremely low income Nevadans pay more than half of their income on rent.”
- Nevada has the country’s most severe shortage of rental homes affordable and available to extremely low-income households.
- Among the 50 largest cities in the United States, the Las Vegas metropolitan area ranks first among “most severe” affordable-housing shortages.
About the Housing Insecurity and Child Maltreatment Study
Data: Data for this study came from the Fragile Families and Child Well-being Study which conducted a large, longitudinal survey that recruited mothers in hospitals shortly after giving birth in 20 large American cities from 1998-2000. Five follow-up interviews with mothers occurred over 15 years between 2000-2015. The study included an intentional oversample of births to unmarried parents, and thus skewed low-income and nonwhite relative to the general U.S. population.
Limitations of the study: The Fragile Families study sampled mothers living in large U.S. cities with populations more than 200,000 and may not be generalized to rural communities. The data was collected prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.