Children's perceptions of maltreatment: An ethnic analysis

Scott David Cicero, Fordham University


Ethnic and cultural analyses of child maltreatment have been notably absent from both clinical and empirical practice. Equally scarce are studies tapping children's perceptions of maltreatment. Given that children's perceptions of maltreatment are an important treatment variable, the current study asked which factors might affect such perception. Independent variables included subject demographic variables (ethnicity, sex, socioeconomic status, parental education, parental occupation, grade level, and cultural background), as well as both maltreatment type/severity and maltreatment type alone. The dependent variable, perception of maltreatment, was operationalized as the child's rating of the seriousness or wrongness of specific maltreatment vignettes, presented in written questionnaire format. Based on prior research on ethnic and class differences in adult attitudes toward maltreatment, it was hypothesized that ethnicity and SES would significantly affect children's perceptions, such that Anglos would have less serious perceptions than Blacks and Hispanics, and children of middle SES would have less serious perceptions than those of lower SES. Secondary hypotheses predicted an interaction of ethnicity and sex, such that both Anglo and Hispanic females were expected to have more serious perceptions than their male counterparts. Three hundred twenty nonmaltreated 6th to 8th graders completed the study. Children were selected from racially mixed parochial schools in urban/suburban areas of northern New Jersey. Data were analyzed via a series of analyses of variance, analyses of covariance with SES as the covariate, and t-tests. Results suggested that children's perceptions of maltreatment seriousness were influenced most frequently by sex and maltreatment type; somewhat by maltreatment type/severity; infrequently by independent effects of ethnicity, cultural background, or grade level; and not at all by SES, parental education, or parental occupation. At times, perceptions were influenced by the interaction of several such variables. Implications for clinical and empirical practice were discussed. Most importantly, the finding that children are generally more alike than different in their perception of parental behavior argued against the need for ethnic-, culture-, or class-specific standards and policies concerning child maltreatment. The need for increased specificity in defining subtypes of maltreatment, rather than specificity across ethnic and class lines, was reinforced.

Subject Area

Psychotherapy|Developmental psychology|Minority & ethnic groups|Sociology

Recommended Citation

Cicero, Scott David, "Children's perceptions of maltreatment: An ethnic analysis" (1992). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI9215347.