Subtypes of exposure to intimate partner violence within a Canadian child welfare sample: associated risks and child maladjustment

Andrea Gonzalez, Harriet MacMillan, Masako Tanaka, Susan M Jack, Lil Tonmyr
Child Abuse & Neglect 2014, 38 (12): 1934-44
Children exposed to intimate partner violence (IPV) are at increased risk of experiencing behavioral difficulties including externalizing and internalizing problems. While there is mounting evidence about mental health problems in children exposed to IPV, most of the research to date focuses on IPV exposure as a unitary, homogeneous construct. The purpose of this study was to examine the association between subtypes of IPV exposure on child functioning and presence of harm within a child welfare sample. Given the evidence of the "double whammy" effect, co-occurring IPV exposure was also examined. Using data from the Canadian Incidence Study of Reported Child Abuse and Neglect - 2008 (n=2,184) we examined whether specific IPV exposure subtypes or their co-occurrence resulted in a greater risk of child maladjustment. Information was obtained from child welfare workers' reports. Caregiver and household risk factors were also examined. Co-occurring IPV exposure resulted in the greatest risk for reported child maladjustment. Exposure to emotional IPV and direct physical IPV were significantly associated with increased risk of internalizing problems and presence of harm. Caregiver mental health and lack of social support emerged as significant risk factors for behavior problems. This study adds to the evidence that exposure to subtypes of IPV may be differentially related to child functioning. Given that risk factors and child functioning is part of the decision-making framework for case worker referrals, this study provides important preliminary evidence about how the child welfare system operates in practice with respect to sub-types of exposure to IPV. These findings suggest that intervening with children exposed to different types of IPV may require a tailored approach.

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