December 12, 2016 – Is There a Cycle to Break?

Teresa HuizarGood morning and happy Monday. I hope this finds everyone well. This morning, I’d like to take a moment to focus on what we mean when we talk about the “cycle of abuse.”  We know from the research that early, effective intervention in child maltreatment cases can break the cycle of intergenerational abuse. But what, exactly, does the transmission of abuse from one generation to the next mean? What are the prevalence rates and characteristics?

It turns out that the research on this is all over the map, with estimates of the likelihood of repeat maltreatment across generations ranging from 1% to 50% or more. In response, researchers from Tufts University took a closer look at this phenomenon and their results are published in an article, “Intergenerational transmission of child abuse and neglect:  Do maltreatment type, perpetrator, and substantiation status matter?” [1] Not surprisingly, it turns out that the answer to those questions is a resounding yes.

The researchers begin by pointing to the shortcomings of prior methodological approaches to this issue. For example, they note that past studies have failed “to distinguish between intergenerational continuity and transmission, the former representing situations in which children of maltreated parents have been abused or neglected irrespective of whether or not the perpetrators were actually their parents, and the latter referring to a subgroup of these families in which parents who were maltreated also have been identified as the perpetrators of maltreatment.” Id., p. 85. In the current study, researchers addressed these concerns through their methodology and design.

The study then found “robust evidence of intergenerational continuity and transmission of child maltreatment in an at-risk sample of young mothers and their preschool-aged children.”  Id., p. 92. The researchers found that “intergenerational rates were highest for type-to-type transmission (neglect was >60% more likely when mothers had neglect histories) and for multiple type maltreatment (there was a 300% increase in multiple-type maltreatment when mothers had any multi-type exposure…).” Id

Why does this matter, beyond simply confirming that the cycle of abuse is really does exist? It matters because it gives us “a more nuanced understanding of children’s maltreatment.” Id. As such, provides an important reason to ascertain the trauma histories of caregivers and work to strengthen caregiver engagement in the trauma treatment of child victims. By doing so, we may be better prepared to both support victims and caregivers and ultimately break the cycle of abuse.

We as CACs and MDTs have an important role to play not only in identifying transmission factors, but also in using this kind of information to develop prevention and intervention strategies that can truly break the cycle of abuse. With this in mind, I urge you to download this article and read it in full, and to share it with your colleagues and team members.
As always, I thank you for all your hard work and dedication and for all that you do on behalf of children and families.

Warm regards,  
[1] Full text of this publication may be found in the National Children's Advocacy Center's Child Abuse Library Online (CALiO ™) or by contacting the NCAC Research Digital Information Librarian. CALiO ™ is a service of the National Children's Advocacy Center (NCAC). | 516 C Street, NE, Washington, DC 20002 US

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