Exposure to family violence especially harmful to previously abused children

Sep 16, 2008

Millions of American children are exposed to violence in their homes each year, putting them at risk for a variety of emotional and behavioral problems. According to a new study in the September/October 2008 issue of the journal Child Development, children who are maltreated tend to have a lot of re-exposure to family violence, and this re-exposure often leads to increased psychological problems.

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, University of California, Irvine, and West Chester University found that the types of violence that abused children were subsequently re-exposed to led to specific types of psychological problems. Specifically, previously abused children who witnessed family violence had more symptoms of depression and anxiety, while previously abused children who were subjected to harsh physical discipline were more aggressive and broke rules more frequently.

"Our study has implications for mental health treatment and policy: Clinicians and service providers should be especially concerned about the substantial number of maltreatment victims who are re-exposed to family violence, because these children are highly vulnerable to ongoing emotional and behavioral problems," according to Andrea Kohn Maikovich, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Pennsylvania and the study's lead author.

"Understanding more about how violence affects youth can help us develop more cost-effective and targeted interventions for our nation's young victims of violence," she added. "Because victims of abuse and neglect are at increased risk of witnessing and experiencing other forms of family violence, intervention efforts must focus not only on protecting children from re-victimization as it is defined legally, but work to decrease even non-abusive forms of physical discipline such as corporal punishment and the amount of adult domestic violence children witness in their homes."

In the study, family violence was defined as partner-on-partner abuse, including yelling, throwing an object, hitting, beating up, pointing or using a knife or gun, and dealing drugs, as well as adult-on-child abuse, including the above examples and spanking. Harsh physical discipline was defined as anything from an adult spanking a child to an adult choking a child.

The researchers studied a racially diverse group of 2,925 children ages 5 to 16 years. All of the children had been reported to Child Protective Services as suspected victims of abuse (for neglect as well as physical, sexual, and emotional abuse). Three times over a three-year period, the children's caregivers reported how much physical discipline they used with the children, and the children reported how much violence they saw in their homes. Caregivers also reported on the children's emotional and behavioral problems.

It can be difficult to determine whether a child's emotional and behavioral problems are the result of experiencing violence in the home or are caused by the other stressful events that many victims of family violence experience. The researchers used a type of statistical testing that allowed them to examine whether witnessing home violence and experiencing harsh physical discipline were associated with children's emotional and behavioral problems above and beyond the effects of other factors that predict childhood mental illness and are strongly tied to violence, including poverty and caregivers' mental health problems. They also took into consideration each child's age and gender, as well as normal expected changes in childhood mental health over time.

Source: Society for Research in Child Development

Explore further: FTC clears Sun Pharma's $4B purchase of competitor Ranbaxy

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Men want commitment when women are scarce

Jan 13, 2015

The sexual stereotype, in line with evolutionary theory, is that women want commitment and men want lots of flings. But a study of the Makushi people in Guyana shows the truth is more complex, with men more ...

Recommended for you

Why aren't there any human doctors in Star Wars?

Jan 30, 2015

Though set "a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away," it isn't hard to see in the Star Wars films a vision of our own not so distant future. But Anthony Jones, a physician with a long background in health ...

Cambodia bans 'virgin surgery' adverts

Jan 29, 2015

The Cambodian government has ordered a hospital to stop advertising so-called virginity restoration procedures, saying it harms the "morality" of society.

What's happening with your donated specimen?

Jan 28, 2015

When donating blood, plasma, human tissue or any other bodily sample for medical research, most people might not think about how it's being used. But if you were told, would you care?

Amgen tops Street 4Q forecasts

Jan 27, 2015

Amgen Inc. cruised to a 27 percent jump in fourth-quarter profit and beat Wall Street expectations, due to higher sales of nearly all its medicines, tight cost controls and a tax benefit.

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.