Behavioral problems among children whose mothers are abused by an intimate partner

Mary A Kernic, Marsha E Wolf, Victoria L Holt, Barbara McKnight, Colleen E Huebner, Frederick P Rivara
Child Abuse & Neglect 2003, 27 (11): 1231-46

OBJECTIVES: To determine the association between children's exposure to maternal intimate partner violence (IPV) and behavior problems as measured by the parent report version of the Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL).

METHODS: The study population was comprised of 167 2- to 17-year-old children of Seattle women with police-reported or court-reported intimate partner abuse. The CBCL normative population served as the comparison group. Risk of behavior problems was calculated among the exposed children, in the presence and absence of a history of reported child maltreatment, relative to the normative population. Multiple logistic regression served as the primary method of analysis.

RESULTS: Children exposed to maternal IPV were more likely to have borderline to clinical level scores on externalizing (i.e., aggressive, delinquent) behavior (RR=1.6, 95% CI: 1.2, 2.1) and total behavioral problems (RR=1.4, 95% CI: 1.1, 1.9) compared to the CBCL normative sample after adjusting for age and sex. Children who were exposed to maternal IPV and were victims of child maltreatment were more likely to receive borderline to clinical level scores on internalizing (i.e., anxious, depressed) behaviors (RR=2.6, 95% CI: 1.5, 3.6), externalizing (i.e., aggressive, delinquent) behaviors (RR=3.0, 95% CI: 1.9, 4.0) and total behavioral problems (RR=2.1, 95% CI: 1.2, 3.2) compared to the CBCL normative sample after adjusting for age and sex.

CONCLUSIONS: Exposure to maternal IPV is significantly associated with child behavioral problems both in the presence and absence of co-occurring child maltreatment. Appropriate attention to the mental health of children living in households with IPV is needed.

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