San Francisco’s black and Hispanic children are not only more likely to be maltreated than their white counterparts, they’re also far more likely to be maltreated than their black and Hispanic counterparts elsewhere in the state.
Though the numbers are stark — San Francisco’s black and Latino children have a 60 percent higher maltreatment rate than black and Latino children on a statewide level — experts on child abuse and social work warn that comparing San Francisco with other counties in California, or with the state as a whole, is a dangerous game: San Francisco is an entirely urban county, and child abuse is both more prevalent and more likely to be reported in urban areas than suburban or rural areas.
According to figures compiled by UC Berkeley’s Center for Social Services Research, in San Francisco, social workers in 2009 documented about 38 substantiated cases of child maltreatment per about 1,000 black children. That’s not only a rate eight times higher than the maltreatment cases of white children in the city and county of San Francisco, but it’s also fully 60 percent higher than the rate of reported maltreatment of black children statewide.
This is at least in part because abuse in San Francisco is more likely to be reported than it may be elsewhere, said Jill Duerr Berrick, professor of social welfare at Berkeley.
“We do see that there is more [child maltreatment] reporting in urban areas,” she said. “San Francisco is truly urban, so you can’t even compare it to something like Los Angeles County, which also has urban areas, but also has vast rural and semi-rural areas.”
But rates of reporting may not be the only factor in the stark difference. San Francisco has suffered an exodus of middle- and upper-class African-tAmerican families, which may contribute to the difference. High rates of poverty also correlate with higher levels of child abuse and neglect, Berrick said.
“Families who are the very poorest among us have maltreatment rates that very much exceed the rates in middle-class and upper-class families,” she said. “There’s a great deal of evidence that living on a very low income is an extremely stressful experience in the United States. And living on a low income and raising children is even more stressful, so that stress results sometimes in reduced parenting capacity.”
The City’s Human Services Agency chief Trent Rhorer dismissed much of the discrepancy as “a function of our very aggressive mandated report,” but admitted there are likely many factors, including poverty, that contribute.
Incidences of substantiated child abuse per 1,000 children.
Source: UC Berkeley Center for Social Services Research