Psychological abuse between parents: associations with child maltreatment from a population-based sample

Jen Jen Chang, Adrea D Theodore, Sandra L Martin, Desmond K Runyan
Child Abuse & Neglect 2008, 32 (8): 819-29

OBJECTIVE: This study examined the association between partner psychological abuse and child maltreatment perpetration.

METHODS: This cross-sectional study examined a population-based sample of mothers with children aged 0-17 years in North and South Carolina (n=1,149). Mothers were asked about the occurrence of potentially neglectful or abusive behaviors toward their children by either themselves or their husband/partner in the past year. Partner psychological abuse was categorized as no psychological abuse (reference), husband perpetrates, wife perpetrates, or both perpetrate. Outcome measures for psychological and physical abuse of the child had four categories: no abuse (reference), mother perpetrates, father/father-figure perpetrates, or both parents perpetrate, whereas child neglect was binary. Adjusted relative risk ratios (aRRRs), adjusted odds ratios, and 95% confidence intervals (CIs) were estimated with regression models. A relative risk ratio was the ratio of odds ratios derived from multinomial logistic regression.

RESULTS: Children were at the greatest risk of maltreatment when parents psychologically abused each other versus no abuse: the aRRR for child psychological abuse by the mother only was 16.13 (95% CI: 5.11, 50.92) compared to no abuse, controlling for child age, gender, Medicaid welfare, and mother's level of education. Both parents psychologically abuse each other versus no abuse also results in an aRRR of 14.57 (95% CI: 3.85, 55.16) for child physical abuse by both parents compared to no abuse. When only the husband perpetrates toward the wife, the odds of child neglect was 5.29 times as much as families with no psychological abuse (95% CI: 1.36, 20.62).

CONCLUSIONS: Partner psychological abuse was strongly related to child maltreatment. Children experienced a substantially increased risk of maltreatment when partner psychological abuse was present in the homes.

PRACTICE IMPLICATIONS: This study observed that intimate partner psychological abuse significantly increased risk of child maltreatment. Increased public awareness of partner psychological abuse is warranted. Primary prevention should include education about the seriousness of partner psychological abuse in families. Domestic violence and child welfare agencies must recognize the link between partner psychological abuse and child maltreatment and work together to develop effective screening for each of these problems.

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