Abstract: Children's Exposure to Intimate Partner Violence and an Emotional-Behavioral Disability Among Children in the Child Welfare System: What Role Do Children's Trauma Symptoms Play? (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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Children's Exposure to Intimate Partner Violence and an Emotional-Behavioral Disability Among Children in the Child Welfare System: What Role Do Children's Trauma Symptoms Play?

Wednesday, January 20, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Kristen Ravi, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Knoxville, TN
Background and Purpose: Children’s exposure to intimate partner violence (IPV) and child maltreatment are pervasive, often co-occur and are associated with adverse short-term and long-term consequences for individuals and society. It has been established that children’s exposure to IPV and child maltreatment are associated with children’s trauma symptoms. Few studies have examined the relationship between IPV exposure and an emotional-behavioral disability (EBD), a disability characterized by prolonged emotional and behavioral difficulties that adversely affect learning. Presently, studies have not included the impact that children's trauma symptoms have on the relationship. This study explores the impact of IPV exposure among children involved in the child welfare system, EBD, and whether children’s trauma symptoms mediate the relationship.

Methods: This study utilized data from Wave 3 of the second National Survey of Child and Adolescent Well-being (NSCAW-II) study. The sample for the current study included children (ages 8-17) with substantiated and unsubstantiated child maltreatment who remained in the home with their mother or female caregiver (n=398). The frequency of IPV exposure was measured using 13 items from the physical subscale of the Conflict Tactics Scale. Child trauma symptoms were captured using the Trauma Symptoms Checklist for Children. EBD was determined if mothers positively endorsed EBD when asked: “What special learning problems or special needs were you told your child has?” Child race, gender, age, maltreatment substantiation, poverty level, and trauma and EBD at Waves 1 and 2 were controlled. Path analysis using Mplus was employed to analyze the relationship between exposure to IPV and the identification of EBD and whether trauma symptoms mediate the relationship. The longitudinal weight was used to account for the adjustment made in the previous waves.

Results: The children in the sample were racially diverse, and their ages ranged from 8-15 years (M=10.96, SD=1.92). A total of six percent of the children in the sample had EBD. IPV incidents ranged from 0-177. The model explained 51.2% of the variance in EBD and 43.4% of the variance in children’s trauma symptoms. The small, non-significant chi-square (Χ=2.34) and an SRMR of .03 indicates a well-fitting model. As hypothesized, there was a direct relationship between the frequency of IPV and children’s trauma symptoms (β=.11, SE=.03, p=<.001) as well as a direct relationship between children’s trauma symptoms and EBD (β=.31, SE=.12, p=.004) indicating a mediation between IPV exposure and EBD through children’s trauma symptoms (β=.01, SE=.003, p=.01).

Conclusion and Implications: The findings of this study provide evidence of an indirect relationship between exposure to IPV and EBD through children’s trauma symptoms. Trauma-focused interventions could be beneficial to reduce the presence of trauma symptoms that negatively impact children’s affect, behavior, relationships, and academics to prevent children from developing EBD potentially. Schools should consider universal screenings for IPV and other adverse childhood experiences and adopting a trauma-sensitive school model. Future research is needed to examine the impact of other forms of IPV. Subsequent research would be strengthened by using a child self-report measure of IPV exposure and EBD data that is collected from school records.