Research That Matters (January 17 - 20, 2008)

Regency Ballroom Wings (Omni Shoreham)

The Impact of Childhood Abuse and Neglect on Parenting: Direct and Indirect Pathways

Meeyoung O. Min, PhD, Case Western Reserve University, Sheri Eisengart, PhD, Case Western Reserve University, Sonnia Minnes, PhD, Case Western Reserve University, and Lynn Singer, PhD, Case Western Reserve University.

Purpose: The purpose of this study was to examine the direct and indirect effects of childhood abuse and neglect on parenting behavior in a sample of mothers with school aged children. A history of childhood trauma has been linked to high psychological distress in adulthood, and psychological distress has been linked to a range of less optimal parenting outcomes, including child maltreatment. This study examined psychological distress as a mediator of the relationship between childhood trauma and parenting behavior, controlling for parenting attitude toward corporal punishment, child-related parenting stress, and maternal education.

Methods: Data from 200 mother-child dyads were collected at the 10-year follow-up visit as part of a longitudinal study to examine the effects of fetal cocaine exposure. Participants were primarily poor, urban, and African American. Maternal childhood trauma (MCT) was assessed with the Childhood Trauma Questionnaire (CTQ), which captures five domains of trauma, including physical, sexual and emotional abuse, and physical and emotional neglect. Education was measured with self-reported number of years of education. Psychological distress was measured with the Brief Symptom Inventory (BSI). Parenting attitude toward corporal punishment was measured with the Belief in the Use of Corporal Punishment subscale from the Adult-Adolescent Parenting Inventory (AAPI-2). Child-related stress was measured with the Child Domain Stress (CDS) score of the Parenting Stress Index (PSI). Finally, parenting behavior was assessed with the two subscales of the Parent-Child Conflict Tactics Scale (PCCTS), physical aggression and psychological/verbal aggression. Structural equation modeling using AMOS and with full-information maximum likelihood (FIML) estimation method, was used to simultaneously estimate the direct and indirect impact of childhood trauma on parenting behaviors.

Results: MCT was significantly (p < .05) related to higher child-related parenting stress (β= .24), more psychological distress (β= .29) and more child maltreatment (β= .17). Further, MCT had an indirect effect on child maltreatment through psychological distress. Maternal psychological distress was significantly related to child maltreatment (β= .23). Lower level of education was marginally (p < .10) related to parenting attitude toward corporal punishment (β= - .14) and higher child-related parenting stress (β= - .15), and significantly related to child maltreatment (β= .21). Parenting attitude toward corporal punishment was related to child maltreatment (β= .36). No association emerged between MCT and parenting attitude toward corporal punishment, or between child-related stress and child maltreatment. MCT was significantly correlated with lower levels of education (r= - .26). Maternal psychological distress was correlated with child-related parenting stress (r= - .40), but not with parenting attitude toward corporal punishment. This model explained 30% of the variance in child maltreatment. Fit statistics indicated an acceptable fit to the data, χ2 (243) =381.8, CFI= .94, TLI= .92, RMSEA= .054 (90% CI= .043 - .064).

Implications for practice: This study indicates that the association between maternal history of childhood trauma and parenting behavior is mediated by psychological distress. Interventions designed to help mothers to reduce psychological distress may improve parenting behaviors. Also, providing education to mothers about appropriate parenting techniques may reduce child maltreatment.