Children in Gainesville are comparatively more at risk for maltreatment than other areas of the state, a new University of Texas study suggests.
Researchers at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Tyler and The University of Texas System analyzed data from five sources, including census estimates and vital statistics, to calculate the level of risk children face across the state. The researchers hoped that by laying out what’s putting kids at risk in each community, they’ll give local and state-level groups the information needed to start addressing the underlying issues contributing to child maltreatment.
“There is no single factor that signals that a community holds a high risk for child maltreatment. Further, different risk factors are important for different communities,” the researchers wrote in a summary posted to UT Health’s website. “In order for communities to understand their child maltreatment risk, they must also understand their risk profile and what in their community is contributing to that risk.”
The research factors in family poverty as well as area health and disability rates, income levels, child hospital visits, education levels, infant mortality, the number of assaults needing medical attention and the level of school enrollment, according to the research summary.
While Gainesville comes in at about average in several areas, the number of assaults requiring medical attention that happen to Gainesville residents is among the highest in the areas that researchers analyzed, a data map of their research shows.
“Crime rates have been linked to maltreatment risk in several studies. However, it is very tricky to measure and difficult to obtain crime data for small areas like ZIP codes or over very large areas like the entire state,” researchers noted. “The crime proxy used in these analyses was emergency department or hospital encounters due to assault.”
That data includes both assault victims and perpetrators, according to researchers. They were mapped based on where the person being treated lived, not where the assault happened, they added.
Gainesville’s health and disability rates are also comparatively high, researchers noted. That factor included a group of rates that researchers believed were most indicative of children’s risk level.
In the health and disability analysis, researchers considered factors like the rate of women smoking during pregnancy, low breastfeeding rates for women in the hospital with their newborns and other statistics like workforce participation for men ages 24-64 and the rate of adults age 35-64 receiving disability benefits.
Gainesville was average or somewhat worse off than average in all other areas the researchers considered, according to their data.
All told, researchers found children of all ages were at comparatively high risk for maltreatment, according to the data.
Researchers described each ZIP code’s risk level as comparatively low, average, above average, comparatively high and among the highest relative to other areas. Many ZIP codes weren’t analyzed because there wasn’t enough data to go on, researchers noted in their summary.
The report, “Maltreatment Risk in Communities, 2016,” was funded by the Prevention and Early Intervention Division at the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, according to the research summary, as well as Casey Family Programs, a foundation advocating for foster care and child welfare.