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Identifying Environmental Predictors of Child Maltreatment

The proposed work is inspired by previous research that identified social factors (primarily poverty and criminal behavior) that predict child maltreatment as measured by referrals to child protective services. This is a hypothesis generating project with the eventual goal of affecting public policy to enhance child safety in alignment with Goal 3, "Engage communities to improve health and quality of life." The study design proposed is ecologic in which we will examine the association between group-level exposures --such as neighborhood walkability and measures of social cohesion -- and a group-level outcome – rates of child maltreatment as measured by prosecutions. This method cannot prove causality, but it can serve as a resource-efficient means of screening multiple social and environmental exposures within communities to identify those that are associated with more child maltreatment and may be amenable to interventions. The proposed project will be a first collaboration between faculty members from three Colleges. Prof Guiora, S.J. Quinney College of Law, is a well-recognized expert in the domain of enablers and bystanders in sexual abuse of children and young adults. Dr. Medina, Associate Professor in the College of Social and Behavioral Science (Geography) provides analytical expertise, particularly for spatial data, and has published on geography and social outcomes including terrorism and hate crimes. Dr. Porucznik, Professor in the Spencer Fox Eccles School of Medicine (Family and Preventive Medicine, Public Health) contributes broad experience with epidemiologic study design and environmental health. She has been previously funded for related public health law research in the domain of policy analysis and the outcome of drug overdose deaths in Utah.

Current Status

It took some time, but we have received data from local law enforcement about child maltreatment incidents in Salt Lake County. We are starting the analysis to evaluate for association between environmental factors and those outcomes. In the meantime, we have prepared a manuscript "CHILD MALTREATMENT: HOW BEST TO PROTECT CHILDREN" with two student authors about implementation and evaluation of the federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (1974) in Utah, Wyoming, and Nevada and are preparing to submit it to a journal.


School of Medicine
Project Owner

S.J. Quinney College of Law
College of Law

College of Social and Behavioral Science

Project Info

Funded Project Amount

child abuse, environment, social determinants of health, epidemiology, criminal justice, maltreatment, spatial statistics, ecologic, public health, law, geography, environmental health

Project Status
Funded 2023
Last Updated: 9/1/21