The Society for Social Work and Research

2013 Annual Conference

January 16-20, 2013 I Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina I San Diego, CA

The Sleeper Effect of Intimate Partner Violence Exposure: Long-Term Consequences On Young Children's Aggressive Behavior

Friday, January 18, 2013: 3:00 PM
Executive Center 2B (Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina)
* noted as presenting author
Megan R. Holmes, PhD, Assistant Professor, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, OH
Background and Purpose: Children who have been exposed to intimate partner violence (IPV) experience a wide variety of short-term social adjustment and emotional difficulties, including externalizing behavioral problems such as aggression. While children are affected at all ages, less is known about the long-term consequences of IPV exposure at younger ages or how IVP exposure may alter the typical developmental course of children. Cross-sectional research consistently indicates that IPV exposure is related to increased externalizing behavioral problems for school-aged children. However, this relationship for preschool-aged children is only sometimes found. Inconsistent findings among preschool-aged children may suggest that these young children may have been exposed at a critical time point in their development that may result in a delayed effect of problems with aggression that do not manifest until children are more frequently interacting with peers and adults outside of the family. Because early experiences provide the foundation for later development, children exposed to IPV as an infant or toddler may experience worse negative outcomes over time than children exposed at a later age.  The current study examines whether early IPV exposure, occurring between birth and age three, compared to no exposure, affects the development of aggressive behavior trajectories over five years.

Methods: Secondary data analysis was conducted using the National Survey of Child and Adolescent Well-Being (NSCAW), a national longitudinal study designed to assess outcomes of children who have been referred to Child Protective Services for maltreatment. Data was collected at four timepoints between 1999 and 2007. Children were between birth and 3 years at baseline who were either exposed to IPV at baseline but then never subsequently exposed (n = 107, early IPV exposure) or never exposed to IPV over the course of the study (n = 339). At each timepoint, mothers reported past year frequency of physcial assualt by their partner (Conflict Tactics Scale) and their children’s aggressive behavior problems (Child Behavior Checklist). Latent growth curve modeling was used while controlling for maternal demographics, maternal substance use, maternal depression, household characteristics, and child maltreatment. This modeling allowed for empirical exploration of developmental trajectories and considered whether initial social development trajectories and change over time vary according to early IPV exposure.

Results: Children who were exposed to more frequent early exposure did not have significantly different aggressive behavior problems initially than children who were never exposed. However, over time the more frequently children were exposed between birth and 3 years the more aggressive behavior problems were exhibited by age 8.

Conclusions and Implications: Because the negative effects of early IPV exposure are delayed until the child is of school age, early intervention is necessary for reducing the risk of later aggressive behavior.  An initial assessment directly following exposure to IPV may not be able to identify behavior problems in the children.  However, as these results suggest, there are long-term negative behavioral effects on children who have been exposed to IPV at an early age.