Society for Social Work and Research

Sixteenth Annual Conference Research That Makes A Difference: Advancing Practice and Shaping Public Policy
11-15 January 2012 I Grand Hyatt Washington I Washington, DC

16319 Aggressive Behavior of Children Exposed to Intimate Partner Violence: An Examination of Maternal Mental Health, Maternal Warmth and Child Maltreatment In Three Age Groups

Saturday, January 14, 2012: 3:00 PM
Constitution C (Grand Hyatt Washington)
* noted as presenting author
Megan R. Holmes, MSW, Doctoral Student, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA
Background and Purpose: Between 10% and 20% of American children are exposed to intimate partner violence (IPV) yearly, and these children are at an increased risk for child maltreatment. IPV exposed children are also at greater risk for the development of externalizing behavioral problems, such as aggression. Past research has identified the mother-child relationship as an important mediator between IPV exposure and externalizing behavior. However, depending on the development period of the child, IPV exposure may result in different outcomes. While scholars have made significant strides in understanding outcomes related to IPV exposure, much of the literature encompasses a wide age. This lack of age differentiation inhibits the ability to identify problems and processes that are particular to various developmental periods. Using attachment theory and the developmental psychopathology perspective to guide a more developmental understanding, this study tests a model of how IPV frequency, maternal mental health, maternal warmth, and child physical and psychological abuse influences aggressive behavior in children across three age groups: 2-4, 5-7, and 8-10.

Methods: Secondary data analysis was conducted using the National Survey of Child and Adolescent Well-Being (NSCAW), a national probability sample of families investigated for child maltreatment. Children were between the ages of 2-4 (n=623), 5-7 (n=597), and 8-10 (n=582). Mothers reported past year frequency of phsycial assualt by their partner (CTS; Straus, 2007), frequency of psychological aggression and physical assualt toward their child (CTSPC; Straus, 1998), maternal mental health including depression, alcohol abuse and drug dependence (CITI-SF; Kessler et al., 2006), and chidlren's aggressive behavior problems (CBCL; Achenbach & Edelbrock, 1981). Maternal warmth was measured through observation by a field representative (HOME; Caldwell & Bradley, 1984). Structural Equation Modeling was used to test and estimate the causal relationships.

Results: Results indicated that for children age 2-4, IPV was positively related to poor maternal mental health and, in turn, positively related to aggressive behavior. Poor maternal mental health was positively related to physical and psychological abuse and positively related to aggressive behavior through physical abuse. For children age 5-7, only higher experience of psychological abuse was related to higher levels of aggressive behavior, whereas for children age 8-10, the increased experience of both physical and psychological abuse was related to increased aggressive behavior.

Conclusions and Implications: Despite previous work indicating a direct relationship between IPV and externalizing/aggressive behavior in children, this study found that IPV was not directly related to aggressive behavior for any of the age groups and only indirectly related to aggressive behavior through poor maternal mental health for children age 2-4. A differential relationship for the child maltreatment variables was found for each age group. Poor maternal mental health was not significantly related to other variables for the older age groups. These differences may be a factor of age in that older children are more independent and less reliant on their parents and hold implications for practice. These findings suggest the importance of including child maltreatment variables and using appropriate age ranges when researching outcomes of children expose to IPV.