Children of moms and female caregivers who've been beaten, choked, or threatened with a weapon may be more likely to have behavior problems that can't be attributed to other factors, say researchers from hospitals in California, Ohio, and North Carolina.
A group of 2,020 mothers or female caregivers of children between 4 and 14 years of age answered questions about their home environment and experience with violence. All of the families had been previously investigated by child protective services workers for child abuse or neglect. The moms reported:
- the child's behavior problems, including internalizing problems like anxiety and depression or externalizing problems like aggression and delinquency
- the child's overall health
- the safety of the neighborhood and how often assaults and muggings, gang activity, and drug use or dealing occurred nearby
- the family's education and income
- whether they'd ever been arrested
- whether they'd ever been depressed or used substances
- whether they regularly swore at the child, called the child names, threatened to send the child away from home, or used corporal punishment such as spanking, slapping, or shaking to discipline the child
- whether they'd ever been victims of minor violence (such as being pushed grabbed, shoved, or slapped) or severe violence (such as being choked, beaten up, or threatened with a knife or gun)
Child protective services workers also noted whether the child had been physically or sexually abused, based on prior reports.
Overall, about 29% of female caregivers had been violently attacked by an intimate partner within the last year. About 16% reported at least one incident of severe physical violence, and about 13% said they'd experienced minor violence, but no severe violence. About half of the families in this survey lived at or below the federal poverty level.
After taking family characteristics and a child's environment into account, researchers determined that being cared for by a woman who'd been kicked, beaten, choked, or threatened with a weapon increased a child's risk of externalizing and internalizing behavior problems, even if the child wasn't directly victimized.
What This Means to You: Living in an abusive situation can be disastrous, not only for your health, but for the health of your child as well, even if he or she isn't a victim. To get out of your abusive situation, seek help for yourself and your child from an organization such as the National Domestic Abuse Hotline by calling (800) 799-SAFE (7233).
Source: Andrea L. Hazen, PhD; Cynthia D. Connelly, PhD; Kelly J. Kelleher, MD, MPH; Richard P. Barth, PhD; John A Landsverk, PhD; Pediatrics, January 2006.
Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: February 2006