Safe, stable, nurturing relationships break the intergenerational cycle of abuse: a prospective nationally representative cohort of children in the United Kingdom

Sara R Jaffee, Lucy Bowes, Isabelle Ouellet-Morin, Helen L Fisher, Terrie E Moffitt, Melissa T Merrick, Louise Arseneault
Journal of Adolescent Health: Official Publication of the Society for Adolescent Medicine 2013, 53 (4 Suppl): S4-10

PURPOSE: To identify contextual and interpersonal factors that distinguish families in which the intergenerational transmission of maltreatment is maintained from families in which the cycle is broken.

METHODS: The sample was composed of 1,116 families in the United Kingdom who participated in the Environmental Risk (E-Risk) Longitudinal Twin Study. We assessed mother's childhood history of maltreatment retrospectively with a validated and reliable interview. Prospective reports of children's physical maltreatment were collected repeatedly up to 12 years. We compared families in which mothers but not children had experienced maltreatment with families in which both mothers and children had experienced maltreatment, and with families without maltreatment, on a range of contextual and interpersonal factors known to affect child development.

RESULTS: In multivariate analyses, supportive and trusting relationships with intimate partners, high levels of maternal warmth toward children, and low levels of partner violence between adults distinguished families in which mothers but not children experienced maltreatment from families in which mothers and children experienced maltreatment. Families in which only mothers experienced maltreatment were largely similar to families in which neither generation experienced maltreatment, except that mothers belonging to the former group were more likely to have a lifetime history of depression and low levels of social support.

CONCLUSIONS: Safe, stable, nurturing relationships between intimate partners and between mothers and children are associated with breaking the cycle of abuse in families. Additional research is needed to determine whether these factors have a causal role in preventing the transmission of maltreatment from one generation to the next.

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