The Intergenerational Effects of Abuse and Neglect: Maltreatment Risk Among Young Children of Adolescent Mothers
Infants born to adolescent mothers face a notably heightened risk of abuse and neglect, with prior research indicating that 1 in 4 will be reported to child protective services (CPS) for maltreatment before age 5. Infants born to adolescent mothers who were themselves victims of abuse or neglect may be particularly vulnerable to maltreatment. In this study we use CPS records to examine the relationship between adolescent mothers’ history of alleged maltreatment and the likelihood their child is reported for abuse or neglect during the first five years of life.
This study uses vital birth records probabilistically matched to administrative CPS records for the state of California. Information from the birth records of all infants born in 2006 to mothers 12–19 years of age were extracted and linked to: (1) historical CPS records to identify teenage mothers for whom there was an allegation of maltreatment victimization prior to the estimated date of conception; and (2) prospective CPS records to identify infants who were reported for maltreatment before age 5. These linked records were then configured into a longitudinal dataset. Cox proportional hazard models were specified to examine the relationship between maternal history of alleged maltreatment victimization and an infant’s risk of being reported for abuse or neglect. Adjustments were made for a range of maternal (e.g., race/ethnicity, age, prenatal care, sexually transmitted diseases) and infant (e.g., sex, birthweight, birth order) covariates.
In California in 2006, a total of 53,625 infants were born to mothers 12-19 years of age. Nearly three-quarters (73.7%) of these infants were born to Latina mothers, while 14.3% and 8.6% were born to white and black mothers, respectively. The mean maternal age at birth was 17.8 years (SD: 1.25); 18.6% of infants were non-first births. Statistically significant variations (p<.001) emerged in the characteristics of mothers who had been previously reported as victims of maltreatment, as well as infants who were subsequently reported to CPS. A record of alleged maltreatment victimization was identified for 1 out of every 3 adolescent mothers (36.6%) and 1 out of every 4 infants born (26.9%). Among infants born to adolescent mothers with a documented history of alleged maltreatment, 42.7% were reported to CPS vs. 17.8% of infants born to adolescent mothers without any history (p<.001). A maternal history of alleged maltreatment was associated with rate of reported infant maltreatment that was more than 2 times that of infants born to adolescent mothers with no such history, even after adjusting for other covariates (adjusted HR: 2.19; 2.13-2.26).
CONCLUSIONS AND IMPLICATIONS:
This is the first population-based examination of intergenerational maltreatment dynamics using official child protection records for both mothers and children. A maternal history of alleged maltreatment emerged in these data as the strongest predictor of an infant’s likelihood of being reported for abuse or neglect by age 5. These data support theories of intergenerational transmission of child maltreatment and highlight the extent to which a parental history of maltreatment may have adverse consequences for children.