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

Intimate Partner Violence Risk Among Mothers Involved in Child Welfare System: The Role of Nativity, Acculturation, and Legal Status

Friday, January 18, 2013
Grande Ballroom A, B, and C (Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina)
* noted as presenting author
Lina Sapokaite Millett, MSW, PhD student, Washington University in Saint Louis, Saint Louis, MO
Kristen D. Seay, MSW, Doctoral Student, Washington University in Saint Louis, St. Louis, MO
Patricia L. Kohl, PhD, Assistant Professor, Washington University in Saint Louis, St. Louis, MO
Background and Purpose:

In 2010, one third of all families involved with Child Protective Services (CPS) experienced intimate partner violence (IPV). Although theory and research suggests that foreign-born women may be at increased risk for IPV, much of it goes unreported due to immigrant status. Studies assessing IPV with CPS-involved immigrant parents remain scarce, largely descriptive, and limited to caseworker reports at the time of investigation. Given the evidence that IPV is a major risk factor for child maltreatment and the country’s rising diversity, it is necessary to expand scholarship in this area. This study examines the following: (1) do risk factors associated with IPV differ by nativity, and (2) do legal status and acculturation level increase the risk for IPV?


Data from wave I of the National Survey of Child and Adolescent Well-Being II, a nationally representative sample of families investigated for child maltreatment was analyzed. The sample included U.S.-born (n=2,839) and foreign-born (n=348) mothers whose children remained in-home following the investigation. Self-reports of physical IPV were measured with the Conflict Tactics Scale. The independent/control variables included maternal self-reports of alcohol (AUDIT) and drug (DAST) use, social support, physical and mental health (SF-12), police arrests, and key socio-demographic variables. Family stress and prior CPS history were controlled for using caseworker reports. Acculturation was measured by self-reported level of English proficiency and length of stay in the U.S. Separate multivariate logistic regression models adjusting for clustering and stratification were run to test the association between risk factors and IPV for all (model 1) and foreign-born (model 2) mothers.


One-fourth (25.8%) of mothers involved with CPS reported experiencing IPV in the last 12 months. Among all mothers, IPV victimization was significantly associated with alcohol use (OR=2.01, p<.001), poor mental health (OR=1.76, p<.001), police arrests (OR=1.40, p<.05), social support (OR=0.97, p<.001), high family stress (OR=1.50, p<.01), and mother’s age (OR=0.96, p<.001) controlling for other variables. Although foreign-born mothers had a slightly elevated risk for IPV compared to U.S.-born (27.5% vs. 25.5%), nativity was not significant when accounting for other variables in the model. Among foreign-born mothers, IPV was associated with social support (OR=0.94, p<.01), high family stress (OR=5.23, p<.05), maternal employment (OR=0.22, p<.01), and prior CPS involvement (OR=0.23, p<.05). Legal status and acculturation were not significant in the model.

 Discussion and Implications:

The study results suggest both U.S.-born and foreign-born mothers are at proportionally equal risk for IPV within the child welfare population, a population that is characterized by complex and often chronic problems. The risk factors, however, differ by nativity. Although low social support and high family stress increase IPV risk for both groups, psychosocial factors increased the IPV risk for U.S.-born mothers only while socio-demographics increase the risk for foreign-born mothers. Practice implications include separate assessment of socio-demographic and psychosocial factors when working with immigrants. Specialized preventative services should target undocumented and less proficient English speaking mothers as they are at an equal risk for IPV but may face obstacles in accessing services.