Are there social class differences in perceptions of child abuse?
The higher a family’s socioeconomic class, the more likely they will view child abuse as inappropriate.
C. Type of Research:
This will be an explanatory research project.
D. Qualitative or Quantitative Study
This will be a quantitative study.
E. Methods Utilized to Conduct Study
I will utilize surveys and content analysis to conduct this study.
Several factors influence the prevalence of child abuse, including social perceptions. As these perceptions are often a product of one’s environment, it is important to determine the effect of aspects of this environment. This study seeks to discover the influence of socioeconomic class on views of child abuse. This will be accomplished through a stratified random sample of forty individuals separated by social class. The adult residents of Berks County, Pennsylvania will be utilized as the sampling frame. First an accurate list of these residents will be obtained and divided based upon pre-determined class categories. Each group’s percentage of the total population will be calculated to determine the number of necessary elements from each category. Class groups will be assigned a letter to ensure both confidentiality and a representative sample. The elements will then be randomly selected in the appropriate category by a computer program and mailed a survey. Non-response will prompt another random selection from the appropriate category. Survey questions include both demographic questions and questions based on indicators of child abuse. Indicator question responses will be assigned a number value. These numbers will be tabulated to determine a score, which will correspond to a previously developed ordinal category based upon a scale of views on child abuse. These scores will then be related back to the socioeconomic class through a cross tabulation table, where any correlation can be observed. Potential third variables will be controlled for with additional cross tabulation tables. I hypothesize that a higher socioeconomic class will correspond with a more negative view on child abuse. It is important to determine class differences with regard to views on child abuse to more accurately distribute resources for both investigations and prevention programs. An understanding of factors that contribute to occurrences of child abuse can aide in the development of prevention and detection programs as well as possible therapy and intervention techniques to prevent escalation and future instances of child abuse.
Child abuse is a substantial social problem, with over 25,000 cases reported in 2009 by the Department of Public Welfare for the state of Pennsylvania alone (2009). This abuse has implications for the child, the family, and society itself. While personal and familial costs are more obvious, social expenses are potentially more detrimental. The child welfare system requires vast amounts of time and money to identify, substantiate, and prosecute cases of abuse. Additional funding is required to remove and provide placements for abused children. Pennsylvania reports $46.68 million required to investigate cases of child abuse of the total $1.5 billion budget of the child welfare system in 2009 (PADPW 2009). Research has shown that there are a variety of factors that contribute to child abuse, including social characteristics, parental attitudes, and beliefs about discipline and abuse. Determining the relevance of these factors and their relationship to each other is an important step in discovering the causes of child abuse.
The focus of this research will be the detection of differences in views on child abuse that are held by members of different social classes. The subcultural theory of sociology cites the differences between subcultures and the larger culture as the cause of deviant behavior. Every culture has its own norms and values that govern behavior. Subcultures, which exist within a larger culture, often have norms that conflict with those of the larger culture, usually without the subculture itself being labeled as deviant. The disorganization, isolation, and anonymousness of urban areas foster the creation of these subcultures in lower class populations. The lower class subcultures have values that are the product of their separate experiences and goals and thus deviate from the typical middle-class standards of behavior. An impoverished upbringing with scarce resources will yield different results than one in which every opportunity is available. Disparities in education, employment, and even social circles can serve to create different beliefs. Actions and attitudes that are considered deviant by the middle class might be accepted as normal by the lower class. For example, in lower class families, children are often viewed either in the role of a small adults or as a costly liability. Children are seen in terms of their contribution, or lack thereof, to the family. This alternate view of children can lead to increased frustration when the children act outside of their expected roles. Individuals from lower class backgrounds often use violence as a tool to resolve conflicts. The combination of these factors cultivates an environment in which child abuse can be explained and almost accepted. These beliefs are then transmitted down to future generations, perpetuating both the subculture and its norms. Determining the extent of these differences will be beneficial for many reasons. Those responsible for identification and reporting of child abuse should be aware of preconceptions and viewpoints in order to make better decisions. Programs and policies can be designed to be sensitive to these differences and can thus be tailored to the appropriate group ensuring higher rates of detection and prevention.
The remainder of this document outlines and evaluates the methods and procedures that will be used to develop the research study. The relevant literature is reviewed, concentrating on its relationship to the current study and the areas in need of further study. The research methods are presented and analyzed in terms of both usage and definition. A final analysis and conclusion will further summarize the relevance of the study. In addition, a tentative budget and time schedule will be provided, along with a sample survey, categorical scale, and cover letter for review.
A considerable amount of research has been conducted on various aspects of child abuse. Two major areas of study are the prevalence and the causes of this form of abuse. Many also include discussions of differences based on various social factors, including race, gender, and social class. Another pertinent area of research is the relationship of social class to parenting styles and beliefs about children, especially regarding disciplinary practices. Research in these areas provides a picture of some basic aspects of child abuse, however, there areas of inconsistency and a lack of a fully comprehensive picture.
While research has shown higher incidents of child abuse among the lower classes, it has also shown that this may in fact be due to reporting practices. According to Milner and Murphy (1995), several social factors influence the amount of reported cases that are then substantiated by intake caseworkers and other professionals, including the interviewer’s gender and personal beliefs. In addition, abuse was found to be more likely to be reported in poorer families. In fact, Herman reported a minimum of a 24 percent error rate between substantiated and actual cases of abuse (2005). Both studies suggested improved training and standard procedures as methods to reduce reporting problems. Baumrind suggests that low income families are subject to increased scrutiny by the public and therefore the child welfare system, making the detection of abuse more likely (1994). She also cites definitions of abuse based upon middle class values as a cause of differences in abuse rates. While an act may technically be considered abuse, a lower class culture might view the act differently, as in a form of discipline.
Other research blamed abuse reporting disparity on the physical location of the child. Urban areas with unstable populations and low income households were shown to be more likely to have higher crime and abuse rates, while rural areas with similar characteristics had lower rates. The social environment was shown to affect reporting and prosecution rates. Rural cultural was found to have a general mistrust of the government, value isolationism, and use informal social measures as a form of social control, which influenced the amount of reported and prosecuted cases (Ménard and Ruback 2003). The numbers of reported and substantiated cases of child abuse do not necessarily reflect the actual number of occurrences, therefore affecting the accuracy of research studies.
Studies that do focus on poverty and class as indicators of child abuse cite several underlying causes as major contributors including stress, lack of resources, and an inadequate family or community support system. Baumrind describes the connection as, “abuse is a response to stress and a sense of powerlessness; neglect is a reaction of helplessness to the inability to provide,” and blames societal abuse and neglect of the parent as the true problem (1994). Research by Thompson, et al. also focused on parent’s attitudes, economic stressors, social factors, and critical events as triggers for abuse (1993). Even in middle class environments, violence is associated with typically lower class issues, such as personal trauma or social stressors (Stewart, et al. 1987). Gerris, Deković, and Janssens cite increased information sources and education as vital resources that are absent for lower class parents (1997). However, social class alone cannot fully account for child abuse, as it does occur across all classes.
Other research has determined race, ethnicity, and culture to be more significant than class as a determinate of child abuse. Kruttschnitt, McLeod, and Dornfeld found that while the persistence of poverty was found to be correlated with an increase in the severity of abuse, when the third variable of race was controlled for, this association diminished (1994). However, racial differences in methods of abuse, such as physical types and use of a weapon, did affect the findings. Garbarino and Ebata (1983) claim that ethnicity, not class is the determinate factor that influences the prevalence of child abuse, as a lack of economic resources does not always translate to a lack of social resources. They claim different cultures have distinct definitions and interpretations of child abuse, somewhat based on evolutionary history. Perceptions and responses to child behaviors are one area, for example what one culture views negatively as hyperactive behavior, another might consider merely energetic. However, these beliefs are not constant across all groups of a particular culture and do not always produce consistent actions; therefore other social factors must also provide influence.
Parental values and styles were also a focus of study. Gerris, Deković, and Janssens (1997) found a relationship between parental perspective and social class, with lower class parents exhibiting more a controlling and less supportive parenting style. Traits such as conformity and obedience are valued. Baumrind (1994) proposes social class differences as influential in child rearing. Lower class parents are more likely to have a negative opinion of children and utilize and authoritarian style that does not encourage independence. However, the research fails to determine how these beliefs and parenting styles are developed and transmitted. Marital conflict also affects parenting ability, as it leads to decreased parental involvement, increased discipline, and a lack of consistency (Krishnakumar and Buchler 2000). Focus on personal conflict creates a lack of focus on child rearing, increasing the potential for harsh disciplinary practices, if not abuse. In addition, low income parents perceive more behaviors as problematic and have more difficulty with problem solving skills, which can reduce the gap between punishment and abuse (Thompson, et al. 1993).
While there is a wealth of information available on child abuse, there is a general lack of connection between the previously conducted research studies. Incidents of abuse can be related to social class. Potential causes of abuse can be identified, based upon social factors. While some studies claim race or ethnicity to be the determinate cause, these studies are inconclusive. Economic resources and social class can be related to both abuse and parenting styles. However, there is little information linking social class and attitudes toward abuse. Therefore, this study seeks to determine whether such a relationship exists. Based upon both the complied research and sociological theory, it is hypothesized that a higher socioeconomic class will correspond to a view of child abuse as a more serious problem.
For the purposes of this study, data collection will be accomplished through the use of a survey given to a stratified random sample of 40 elements. These elements will be divided based upon socioeconomic class, into lower class, middle class, upper middle class, and upper class, which will be defined in reference to amount of income. The survey will be administered through the mail and will also be accompanied by a cover letter explaining the survey’s basic purpose and content along with a self-addressed envelope to ensure completion. Random sampling will increase the possibility of generalizing the findings to the population. As the purpose is to discern views on child abuse and their variance as to social class, it is necessary to obtain data from each of these classes. Also, a stratified sample will more clearly represent the population than a simple random sample, especially in terms of the prevalence of each socioeconomic class.
The sample frame utilized will be the adult residents of Berks County, Pennsylvania. Based upon data obtained from the 2000 census, there are 141,609 families in Berks County. These families can be sorted into classes based upon their income. Lower class was determined to be from $0 to $24,999, middle class from $25,000 to $74,999, upper middle class from $75,000 to 149,999, and upper class as $150,000 and above. Corresponding percentages were calculated to be: lower class, 26%, middle class, 53%, upper middle class, 19%, and upper class 3%. As the sample size is 40 elements, the exact numbers will be as follows: lower class – 10, middle class – 21, upper middle class – 7, and upper class – 2. Names of all Berks County residents, along with their income, will be obtained from tax offices and township records. This will potentially create sampling error, as these records only include those who are taxed and report their residences, which in reality might not include all individuals. The residents will then be categorized into a social class based upon this income and the pre-determined categories. Each group will be assigned a letter; for example, lower class will be represented as “A,” middle class as “B,” and so on. Individuals in their categories will be entered into an Excel spreadsheet, which will randomly select the necessary number of elements to be surveyed. Surveys will then be appropriately lettered and mailed to the selected respondents, who will be given a six week time period in which to complete the survey. After three weeks, a reminder post card will be mailed, encouraging participation in the survey. A non-response after the six weeks will prompt another random selection from the corresponding social class. Lettering the surveys will ensure that there will be the correct number of respondents from each category, while preserving the confidentiality of the individual. Demographic questions listed in the survey will ensure the accuracy of the class assignment. An incorrect assignment can be corrected by discarding the incorrect survey and sending another survey to a different random element.
Survey questions will be derived from predetermined indicators of child abuse. Perceptions, and thus definitions, of child abuse vary from individual to individual. Actions that are viewed by one as normal or acceptable might be considered abuse by another. Legally, child abuse is divided into four categories. Physical abuse, which results in physical injury, includes such acts as hitting, slapping, kicking, and punching. While sometimes a deliberate act, it is also often the product of out of control anger or frustration. This creates potential difficulties in determining where to draw the line between punishment and abuse. Sexual abuse, which includes any physical contact that results in sexual gratification for the perpetrator, is typically easier to identify as abuse. Neglect, or the failure to provide necessary food, clothing, shelter, and education, and emotional abuse, which includes berating, harshly criticizing, and threatening are potentially difficult to identify, as there are often no physical signs. Frequently, more than one action or type of action is exercised. The wide range of behaviors that can potentially constitute abuse creates differences in the way that abuse is defined and perceived. This study will focus on physical and emotional abuse and neglect, as sexual abuse represents a potentially separate area of study.
From these conceptual definitions, several factors can be identified and used to operationally define child abuse. These include obvious acts such as slapping, hitting, and choking along with, the more difficult to define malnourishment, neglect, and abandonment. Even simply berating or threatening a child can be defined as verbal abuse. These specific indicators will be used to develop eight survey questions to gage respondents’ views on child abuse. The inclusion of a variety of different behaviors will ensure that a more accurate and complete perspective of the individual is measured. Actions will be listed with the possible responses of: (a) always, (b) if necessary, (c) only for discipline, (d) as a last resort, and (e) never to indicate when such actions are appropriate for use with children. Each letter response will be assigned a point value, with a = 4, b = 3, c = 2, d = 1, e = 0; therefore the possible scores will range from 0 to 32.
Views on child abuse will then be measured according to an ordinal scale of classifications. The point scores will correspond to four categories: child abuse is a very serious problem (0-8 points), child abuse is a serious problem (9-17 points), child abuse is a somewhat serious (18-26 points), and child abuse is not a serious problem (27-32 points). The higher the score, the less likely an individual is to view actions as abuse, and therefore a serious problem. Categories can then be cross tabulated with socioeconomic class to determine whether a correlation between class and viewpoint on child abuse exists. Spuriousness can be controlled for by cross tabulating for other demographic potential third variables including gender, race, and level of education to determine if these variables have any effect on the view of child abuse. Time order is not a factor, as income is a relatively stable characteristic and should remain stable over the time period of the study. Controlling for these extraneous factors should determine if there is a relationship between higher social classes and an increased awareness of actions that constitute child abuse, therefore supporting the research hypothesis.
The prevalence of child abuse and its social consequences make it an area worthy of greater study. While there is no lack of research on the subject, there is a need to expand relevant information and strengthen the connections between the various previous studies. This is especially true concerning the relationship between social class and views on child abuse. The current study will utilize a survey administered to a stratified random sample of forty Berks County, Pennsylvania residents, divided on the basis of social class. Responses to indicator questions will be graded on a point scale and assigned to a corresponding ordinal category. A cross tabulation table will be used to display correlations. Further tables will control for demographic third variables. This study should establish the relationship between social class and views on child abuse, with higher social class associated with a more serious view on child abuse. Determining this relationship between social class and views of child abuse will provide valuable information for both detection and prevention of future abuse. Professionals with a greater understanding behind the contributing factors of abuse will have a more comprehensive picture and thus be able to develop more accurate detection methods. This will help to reduce the number of falsely substantiated reports. In addition, more effective therapy and treatment programs for both offenders and victims can be developed. Assessing the contributing causes of child abuse will lead to a more economical distribution of valuable resources.
Milner, Joel S. and William D. Murphy. 1995. “Assessment of Child Physical and Sexual Abuse
Offenders.” Family Relations. 44 (4) 478-488.
Herman, Steve. 2005. “Improving Decision Making in Forensic Child Sexual Abuse
Investigations.” Law and Human Behavior. 29 (1) 87-120.
Ménard, Kim S. and R. Barry Ruback. 2003. “Prevalence and Processing of Child Sexual Abuse: a Multi-Data-Set Analysis of Urban and Rural Counties.” Law and Human Behavior. 27 (4) 385-402.
Baumrind, Diana. 1994. “The Social Context of Child Maltreatment.” Family Relations. 43 (4)
Kruttschnitt, Candace, Jane D. McLeod and Maude Dornfeld. 1994. “The Economic
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Stewart, Cyrus, Mary Margaret Senger, David Kallen, and Susan Scheurer. 1987. “Family
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Garbarino, James and Aaron Ebata. 1983. “The Significance of Ethnic and Cultural
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Gerris, Jan R. M., Maja Deković and Jan M. A. M. Janssens. 1997. “The Relationship
between Social Class and Childrearing Behaviors: Parents' Perspective Taking and Value
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Krishnakumar, Ambika and Cheryl Buehler. 2000. “Interparental Conflict and Parenting
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Burke. 1993. “Evaluation of a Practical Parenting Program with Middle- and Low-
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Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare. 2009. “2009 Child Abuse Report.”
Survey - 40 mailed + 20 extra ($.20 per copy) $12.00
Cover Letter – 40 mailed + 20 extra ($.10 per copy) $ 6.00
Envelopes – 1 box of 100 $ 6.50
Reminder Postcards – 1 box of 100 $ 40.00
Mailing Labels – 1 box of 300 $ 12.50
Black Ink – 1 cartridge $ 15.00
Stamps – 160 mailed + 40 extra ($.44) $ 88.00
Total $ 180.00
All supplies purchased on-line – no travel expenses
All work and analysis conducted by researcher – no salary expenses
Total Expenses $ 180.00
Appendix C: Cover Letter
Dear Berks County Resident
Dear Sir or Madam:
My name is Amanda Burkard. As part of my studies at Albright College, I am required to conduct a research study. I have chosen to focus on views of child abuse. I have included a short survey, along with a self-addressed, stamped envelope. Participation is both completely voluntary and confidential. Please fill out the survey as completely and honestly as possible and return it in the enclosed envelope. Any questions can be directed to Professor Charles Brown, PhD, Albright College, Reading, Pennsylvania (610-921-7865). Thank you in advance for your participation.
Appendix D: Survey
The purpose of this research project is to determine if there is a correlation between income, level of education, or race on one’s level of depression. By completing this survey you acknowledge that you are participating voluntarily, that you are at least 18 years of age, and that you can quit the survey at any time. Furthermore, you provide consent to the researcher to use your responses as data for the research project. Thank you for participating in this study.
Please respond to the questions below to the best of your knowledge
1. What age group do you fit into?