The effects of domestic violence, child abuse, and parenting stress on psychological distress in children

by Ellens, Jeffrey K., Ph.D., UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, SANTA BARBARA, 2008, 106 pages; 3347597


Studies investigating the effects of both witnessing domestic violence and being physically abused have been plagued by a series of mixed findings. In addition, most studies in the family violence literature have been descriptive rather than theoretical, resulting in a shortage of literature examining the mechanisms by which family violence negatively impacts children. The present study examined the impact of being exposed to one versus two forms of family violence. Additionally, this investigation explored the relationship between maternal parenting stress and child adjustment problems after witnessing or experiencing abuse.

It was hypothesized that children exposed to domestic violence and child abuse would show more severe adjustment problems than children exposed to domestic violence only. It was further hypothesized that there would be a significant relationship between maternal parenting stress and subsequent child adjustment problems.

Data were collected from the retrospective interviews of the closed case files of 93 mother-child dyads who received services at a non-profit child abuse agency. Based on intake data, participants were categorized into (1) children who witnessed domestic violence but were not physically abused (witnesses only), and (2) children who witnessed domestic violence and were also physically abused (abused witnesses). Child adjustment problems were measured using both The Child Behavior Checklist (Achenbach, 1991a) and the Trauma Symptom Checklist for Children (Briere, 1996), and maternal parenting stress was measured using the Parenting Stress Index (Abidin, 1995).

Results indicated that children from the abused witnesses group were no more likely to show adjustment problems than children from the witnesses only group. This finding held true across both maternal and child self-report data. Other findings indicated a significant relationship between maternal parenting stress and child adjustment problems. Specifically, 40% of the variance in children's internalizing and externalizing problems was explained by maternal parenting stress. Implications and directions for future research are discussed.

AdviserMerith Cosden
Source TypeDissertation
SubjectsDevelopmental psychology; Clinical psychology; Individual & family studies
Publication Number3347597

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