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Intervening in Suspected Child Maltreatment: Parents’ Responses to and Perceptions of Maltreatment in a Rural Midwestern County

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Risks for child maltreatment have been found to be elevated in rural (cf. urban) areas. While previous research indicates that neighborhood processes can protect against child maltreatment, how such processes may uniquely operate in rural settings remains unclear. The vast majority of research on informal social control processes has focused on urban areas with very few studies examining how such processes in rural areas may uniquely influence responses to child maltreatment. To address knowledge gaps in this area, the present qualitative study examined the perceptions of parents living in a rural Midwestern county. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 26 caregivers from Livingston County, Michigan, U.S. Regarding informal social control, participants were asked a series of questions regarding how they would intervene in an instance of suspected child maltreatment in their community. Thematic analysis revealed several strengths and barriers to perceiving and intervening in child maltreatment in rural settings, including close social ties, a culture of silence, maltreatment severity, and ecological challenges. These findings highlight potential reasons for which informal social control processes may differ in rural settings. Social workers may bolster child maltreatment prevention efforts in rural areas by acknowledging unique barriers and potential strengths to leverage in such communities. The current study adds to the body of work to understand rural child maltreatment, by exploring the responses to maltreatment within rural contexts; an area that has not yet been examined.

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Data Availability

The datasets generated during and/or analyzed during the current study are available from the corresponding author upon reasonable request.


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The authors did not receive support from any organization for the submitted work.

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Authors and Affiliations



All authors contributed to the study conception, design, and material preparation. Analyses were performed by the first and second authors. The first draft of the manuscript was written by the first author and all authors commented on previous versions of the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to Olivia D. Chang.

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The authors have no relevant financial or non-financial interests to disclose.

Ethical Approval

Approval was obtained from the University of Michigan ethics committee. The procedures used in this study adhere to the tenets of the Declaration of Helsinki.

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Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

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Chang, O.D., Chang, Y. & Maguire-Jack, K. Intervening in Suspected Child Maltreatment: Parents’ Responses to and Perceptions of Maltreatment in a Rural Midwestern County. Child Adolesc Soc Work J (2024).

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