Abstract: Previous Exposure to Child Maltreatment and the Effects of Subsequent Witnessed Violence: Results from a National High Risk Sample (Society for Social Work and Research 23rd Annual Conference - Ending Gender Based, Family and Community Violence)

288P Previous Exposure to Child Maltreatment and the Effects of Subsequent Witnessed Violence: Results from a National High Risk Sample

Friday, January 18, 2019
Continental Parlors 1-3, Ballroom Level (Hilton San Francisco)
* noted as presenting author
Caitlin Elsaesser, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Connecticut, Hartford, CT
Colleen Katz, PhD, Assistant Professor, Hunter College, New York, NY
Lorin Mordecai, MSW, PhD Candidate, University of Connecticut, Hartford, CT
Background and Purpose: Witnessed violence (i.e., community violence, family violence) is linked to aggregate negative child outcomes, yet youth experience distinct outcomes in response to witnessed violence. The diathesis-stress model suggests that early stressful experiences might change the response to later trauma. Specifically, one version of the diathesis-stress model, the stress sensitization model, suggests that childhood adversity may change stress response such that it takes less stress to elicit negative outcomes. Although it is widely acknowledged that childhood adversity may heighten consequences of later trauma, few studies have applied the stress sensitization model to examine differential response to witnessed violence in adolescence. The present study will address these gaps by evaluating whether childhood adversity (i.e., physical and psychological abuse and neglect) moderates the relationship between witnessed violence and adolescent educational and behavioral outcomes. Based on the existing evidence, we hypothesized that those who experienced childhood adversity would be more likely to report problematic educational and behavioral outcomes in response to witnessed violence than their peers.

Methods: Data were drawn from LONGSCAN, a longitudinal study of the consequences of child abuse conducted between 1992 and 2012 from five sites across the US among a sample of high-risk youth. This study draws on interviews at ages 12 and 18 (N=792, 51% female, 56% African American). At age 12, two types of childhood adversity (physical abuse and physical neglect before elementary school) and two types of past year witnessed violence were assessed (family and community violence). Past year school functioning, internalizing symptoms and externalizing symptoms were assessed at ages 12 and 18. Separate regression analyses first determined the connection between early childhood adversity, witnessed violence forms and youth outcomes. Interaction terms between each form of childhood adversity and each form of recently witnessed violence examined whether the impact of recent witnessed violence on outcomes was more pronounced for those with a history of child adversity than those without.

Results: There was only partial support for the role of the stress sensitization model. In line with the model, the impact of recently witnessed family violence on school functioning was more pronounced among youth who had experienced early childhood neglect than those who had no history of neglect (ß=-.18, p≤.001). Unexpectedly, the impact of recently witnessed family violence on externalizing symptoms was less for youth with a history of early childhood psychological abuse compared to youth without any early abuse (ß=-.11, p≤.05). Early experiences of abuse and neglect did not moderate the impact of recently witnessed violence on internalizing symptoms.

Conclusion and Implications: Our findings suggest that distinguishing between the type of childhood adversity along the dimensions of deprivation (e.g., neglect) and threat (e.g., physical and psychological abuse) might meaningfully differentiate some negative outcomes (educational and behavioral) associated with witnessed violence during adolescence. Youth with childhood adversity profiles that included abuse may have developed coping strategies that enabled them to meet later stressful circumstances with more resilience than their peers. Educational administrators might consider developing targeted supports for students with particular childhood adversity profiles.