Risk Factors for Children in Situations of Family Violence in the Context of Separation and Divorce
2. Risk factors for child harm in the context of family violence and parental separation/divorce
There is an extensive body of literature on the factors associated with children's risk of harm from family violence (Stith et al., 2009; Campbell et al., 2003; Campbell, Webster & Glass, 2009; Ontario DVDRC, 2012). The risk of harm may be exacerbated at the point of separation due to factors such as increased stress on parents, an escalation of domestic violence, and the absence of a protective parent to manage the risks posed by the abusive parent. Understanding risk in this context means appreciating the particular risks associated with separation such as escalation of domestic violence as well as pre-existing risks associated with child maltreatment such as inadequate parenting skills and child vulnerability due to their age. In the following sections we use the term mother and father when the research findings relate to this role and gender. When the research findings are more general we use the term parent.
2.1 Separation and divorce as a unique risk factor
Separation by itself may be a risk factor or a protective factor depending on the process and outcome of the separation. Canadian research has indicated that 40% of women and 32% of men who were in a former violent marriage or common-law relationship experienced violence post-separation (Statistics Canada, 2001). Furthermore, in half of the cases with post-separation violence, according to the victim, children witnessed at least one occurrence of violence; this is likely an underestimate since children report that they are exposed to the violence more often than parents estimate (Jaffe, Wolfe & Campbell, 2012). Research demonstrates that the risk of lethal violence is particularly high following parental separation, especially within the first few months (Campbell et al., 2007; Statistics Canada, 2013). Statistics Canada (2013) indicated that from 2007 to 2011, the risk for women being killed by an ex-spouse was almost six times higher than the risk of being killed from a current legally married spouse with jealousy and frustration being motives behind the homicide. This risk exists not only for adult victims but also for children (Hamilton, Jaffe, & Campbell, 2013; Olszowy et al. 2013). Statistics Canada (2013) found that in just over three quarters of murder-suicides that involved a child victim, the perpetrator was experiencing marital or intimate partner relationship problems. Evidence suggests that those who are physically violent against their partner before a separation will often become psychologically abusive following separation which presents a risk to children's well-being (Brownridge, 2006). In a large Canadian sample, thirty percent of divorced or separated men had perpetrated acts of violence against their intimate partner in comparison to eighteen percent of married men who used violence during their intact marriage (Lupri, 1990).
Following divorce, violent partners have often been shown to use access to children or legal custody proceedings to control or punish their former partners (Radford et al., 1997; Harrison, 2008). When abuse is a factor in a relationship, divorce proceedings are often used as another abuse tactic to exert power and control over former spouses (Watson & Ancis, 2013). This power dynamic is played out with both the adult victim and the children in threats to take the children away or use them as weapons against the mother (Van Horn & McAlister Groves, 2006). Identifying risk factors associated with separation is one of the most difficult exercises for legal and mental health professionals as they are often hearing conflicting allegations (Saini & Birnbaum, 2007). A parent who is a victim of domestic violence or believes they are protecting children from further maltreatment may be accused by the other parent that they are alienating the children against them (Jaffe, Ashbourne, & Mamo, 2010).
2.2 Factors increasing children's risk of harm from family violence prior to or post-parental separation
Risk factors for children exposed to family violence prior to or post-parental separation were identified through both a comprehensive literature review and by experts in the field. Some factors were recognized by experts through their work with families experiencing violence; however these factors may not have been empirically studied and therefore are not discussed in the research literature. The authors have described each factor in detail and have provided relevant research associated where possible. Some factors may have empirical evidence that indicates a risk to adult victims of domestic violence and experts have also identified these factors as also increasing the risk to children. Some of the factors have less empirical evidence but are reported in the clinical literature and in case studies. Research has shown that when adult victims of domestic violence are at risk, children are also at risk (Olszowy et al., 2013; Hamilton, Jaffe & Campbell, 2013).
List of factors increasing children's risk of harm from family violence prior to or post-parental separation
Child exposure to domestic violence as a critical risk factor
- relationship between domestic violence and child abuse
- typology and severity of family violence
- duration of domestic assault incident degree of exposure to domestic abuse incident (e.g., witnessed; intervened)
- risk factors for more severe, repeated and potentially lethal domestic violence
- impact of domestic violence on perpetrator's parenting abilities
- risks associated with incidents of domestic violence that are focused on the parenting abilities of a victim of domestic violence
- using the child as a weapon against the victim spouse
- if the violence was directed toward the children
- risk of child abduction
- access to resources
General child risk factors
- child age
- child gender
- child who presents greater than average challenge to parent: disability and temperament
- views expressed by the child
- child summoned help for abused parent (e.g., calling 911)
General parental factors
Factors commonly associated with mothers
- young maternal age
- a mother's use of retribution violence
- views of parent about child's safety with abuser
Factors commonly associated with fathers
- paternal substance abuse
- paternal psychology/mental illness
- personality characteristics
- risk of psychological abuse and manipulation of children post-separation
- history of sexual and physical abuse toward the child
- abusive father has military training or combat sports
- abusive father suspects infidelity in relationship
- abusive father has perpetrated domestic violence in previous relationships
- abusive father's noncompliance with protective court orders, child protection orders, or child support plans
- refusal to accept responsibility for past violent or abusive actions
- refusal to accept the end of a relationship
- access to firearms
- criminal history of perpetrator
- stalking/harassing/abusing children through social network sites
- animal/pet abuse
Factors commonly associated with both parents
- non-biological relationship with child
- lack of agreement regarding parenting in blended families
- history of maltreatment of that parent in childhood
- parent was previously abused or neglected as a child
- uses physical punishment and other aversive behaviours
- parental stress
- lack of parenting skills
- parents distorted beliefs about gender expectations
Community, societal and cultural factors
- social isolation
- rural families
- community violence
- vulnerable populations
- inadequate resources and support
2.2.1 Child exposure to domestic violence as a critical risk factor
- Relationship between domestic violence and child abuse
- There is considerable overlap with domestic violence and child abuse. Research has found that in families where domestic violence occurs, child abuse is often present (Appel & Holden, 1998; Dong et al., 2004; Gerwitz & Edleson, 2007; Hartley, 2002; Herrenkohl et al, 2008; Renner & Slack, 2006; Straus & Smith, 1990). This overlap is more likely to occur in domestic violent relationships that are defined by coercive control (i.e., pattern of emotionally abusive intimidation coupled with physical violence to gain or maintain power and control over an intimate partner) (Kelly & Johnson, 2008). Furthermore, research has indicated an overlap in the risk factors for domestic violence and child abuse. In Stith's (2009) meta-analysis of the predictors of maternal child abuse, the strongest risk factors for child physical abuse were high family conflict, low family cohesion and domestic violence. The predictors of paternal child abuse were high levels of family conflict (Pittman & Buckley, 2006; Schaeffer et al., 2005).
- Typology and severity of domestic violence
The type of violence perpetrated can be used to predict future victimization (Hardesty et al., 2008). Abusers with history of intimate terrorism (or coercive controlling violence; see Kelly & Johnson, 2008) (use of various tactics to exert control over their partner) are more likely to attempt to use violence and exert control over their partner and/or family post-divorce, than those with a history of situational couple violence (use of violence in specific arguments, without intention to control their partner) (Hardesty et al., 2008). Abusers who have and continue to be able to differentiate their role as a spouse versus a parent are less likely to abuse their children post-divorce (Hardesty et al., 2008). Abusers with a history of intimate terrorism have been found to be less able to differentiate their roles, than those with a history of situational couple violence (Hardesty et al., 2008).
The more serious and violent the abuser's behaviour, the more likely they are to perpetrate future violence (Bancroft, Silverman, & Ritchie, 2012). For example, Campbell et al. (2003) found that the severity and frequency of physical violence heighten the risks of domestic homicide. This risk is especially relevant for adult victims of domestic violence who experienced sexual coercion or violence in their intimate relationships. One study found that adult victims of domestic violence perceived greater personal risk for re-victimization post-separation if they had previously experienced sexual coercion in their intimate relationship (Harding & Helweg-Larsen, 2009).
- Duration of domestic assault incident (i.e., hours or days duration)
- The duration of a domestic assault (i.e., hours or days) coincides with the severity of violence as a risk of harm for children. Although research has not looked at the duration of an assault as a risk for future violence, research has indicated that the duration and frequency of abuse can lead to high levels of PTSD symptoms in children (Jarvis et al., 2005). Nishith et al. (2000) found that exposure to episodes of violence throughout the life course may exert a cumulative effect, in which the distress experienced due to the current episode may be exacerbated by feelings about previous incidents of trauma. Therefore, the longer the duration of domestic assault the more severe the implications (Terr, 1991).
- Degree of exposure to domestic abuse incident (e.g., witnessed, intervened)
Holden (2003) proposes that exposure to domestic violence is a far more complex construct than simply observing and/or overhearing violence. Holden suggests that the forms of exposure can be separated into 10 discrete categories that range from being actively involved in the incident, to observing the initial effects, to being completely unaware of it. The 10 categories are described as:
- Prenatal exposure – effects of domestic violence on the developing fetus.
- Intervenes – the child verbally or physically attempts to stop the assault.
- Victimized – the child is verbally or physically assaulted during the incident.
- Participates – the child is forced or "voluntarily" joins in the assault.
- Eyewitness – the child directly observes the assault.
- Overhears – the child hears, though does not see, the assault.
- Observes the initial effects – the child sees some of the immediate consequences of the assault.
- Experiences the aftermath – the child faces changes in his/ her life as a consequence of the assault.
- Hears about it – the child is told or overhears conversations about the assault.
- Ostensibly unaware – the child does not know of the assault, according to the source.
Research suggests that direct exposure to more severe parental violence can cause more externalizing and internalizing problems in children and increase the likelihood that children will try to intervene (Anderson & Cramer-Benjamin, 2010; Jouriles et al., 1996; Kerig, 1996).
Children who are exposed to domestic violence are at an increased likelihood of developing a defiant relationship with the abuser (Bancroft et al., 2012). In these cases children may challenge the behaviour of abusive parent, putting him or herself in a high risk situation for physical abuse (Bancroft et al., 2012). Parents often do not realize the extent to which their children are exposed to family violence (Hensley & Dunbar, 2011). Therefore, in order to accurately evaluate the extent of the domestic violence, it is essential to obtain information from the children exposed to it.
- Risk factors for more severe, repeated and potentially lethal domestic violence
- Unsurprisingly, men at greater risk for perpetration of future violence are those who have engaged in more frequent and severe past violence. The presence of a past incident of domestic violence or threat of past violence that involves a credible threat of death is of particular concern. Other empirically-supported risk factors include violent attitudes, sexual jealousy, perpetrator disregard of authority (e.g., violation of court orders) and recent escalation of violence (Campbell et al., 2003; Kropp & Hart, 2000).
- Impact of domestic violence on perpetrator's parenting abilities
- Research has indicated that perpetrators of domestic violence often feel guilt, shame and regret concerning their fathering and long for a close relationship with their children while continuing to be distant, restrictive, and/or absent in their children's lives (Fox, Sayers & Bruce, 2002; Perel & Peled, 2008). During contact arrangements, abusive fathers are seen by their children as needing control, not being nurturing, and feeling rejection if the child wants to be with or talk to their mother. Furthermore, abusive fathers tend to express resentment and bitterness towards their ex-partner for preventing them from seeing their children, even in the face of obvious concerns about the history of abuse (Holt, 2013).
- Risks associated with incidents of domestic violence that are focused on the parenting abilities of a victim of domestic violence
- A more speculative risk factor is the extent to which domestic violence involves the perpetrator criticizing or belittling the mother's parenting skills and/or getting the children involved with the criticism. Examples of this type of violence include: repeatedly telling the adult victim that she is a bad mother; threatening that if the couple separated the perpetrator would get custody of the children because the mother would be deemed incompetent; repeatedly telling the children that their mother is incompetent; telling the children to watch what happens when mommy does not listen; or the perpetrator telling the children that he wouldn't have to be violent if their mother was a better parent or if they were better children. Experts in women's advocacy have suggested that when men's violence is focused on mothering, children may be at greater risk for two reasons. First, given the focus of violence, men might be more likely to involve children directly in violent incidents. Just as importantly, advocates point out that when violence is focused on mothering, women may be more likely to question their parenting skills and withdraw from relationships with their children (Cunningham & Baker, 2007).
- Using the child as a weapon against the victim of domestic violence
- In many cases abusers may use the child(ren) to continue to intimidate, harass, or exert control over their ex-spouse (Bancroft et al., 2012; Harrison, 2008). The abuser may not respect custody agreements, threaten their spouse with loss of custody, undermine the spousal victim's authority, and use various forms of psychological violence, such as parental alienation (Bancroft et al., 2012; Scott & Crooks, 2006). Adult victims of violence may be fearful that if they were to attempt to escape the violent situation, their children would remain in the custody of the abusive parent (i.e., to believe the abusers' threats that the courts or CAS would aware care of the children to him) (Cunningham & Baker, 2007). The abuser may also pressure or manipulate the child(ren) to keep secrets regarding their behaviour or to gain information about the other parent, which ultimately puts the child(ren) at risk of harm if they fail to comply (Bancroft et al., 2012). Research demonstrates that an increased level of psychological cruelty toward the mother predicts the use of children as weapons against their mother (Beeble, Bybee & Sullivan, 2007; Wallace & Roberson, 2011).
- If the violence was directed toward the children
- Direct victimization of the child(ren) by the abuser dramatically increases the child's risk of harm post-divorce (Coohey, 2006; Hardesty et al., 2008). These individuals are more likely to have a history of intimate terrorism; and as a result be more likely to continue using violent behaviour post-divorce (Hardesty et al., 2008).
- Risk of child abduction
- Abusers may abduct their children in order to gain access to them or to hurt their spousal victim (Harrison, 2008). Typically abductions occur prior to separation or approximately two year's post-separation (Bancroft et al., 2012). Therefore, at the time of determining a custody arrangement, although the abuser may not appear to have intentions to abduct the child(ren), it is essential to evaluate potential risk. Risk can be evaluated based on past threats of abduction, as well as the seriousness of the violence (Bancroft et al., 2012).
- Access to Resources.
- In some cases, resources (e.g., counselling services; transitional housing; legal assistance) may not be accessed due to cultural and financial barriers. These barriers may also reflect a lack of information about appropriate resources or perceptions that some agencies (such as child protection services) may make the situation even worse. For example, contacting an agency to seek support about children's exposure to domestic violence may trigger mandatory reporting in regards to child endangerment and result in involuntary interventions (e.g., removal of child from home; contacting police; demand to leave the abuser).
2.2.2 General Child Risk Factors
Other risk factors are associated with child vulnerability. The following factors are all established risks for child maltreatment regardless of the domestic violence context. The following are risk factors associated with the child.
- Child age
- The younger the child, the greater the risk of harm due to their increased dependency and developmental needs (Bogat et al., 2006; Jaffe, Wolfe & Campbell, 2012). Furthermore, young children's small physical size make them more vulnerable to being harmed by physically abusive actions, and limited cognitive reasoning abilities leave them with less capacity to anticipate, avoid and escape from potentially abusive situations.
- Child gender
- The rates of family violence victimization for nearly every type of offence are slightly higher for girls than boys, to the extent that girls are 56% more likely to be victimized than boys (Statistics Canada, 2013). The rates of victimization are similar for boys and girls until the age of three at which point the rates rise for girls, peaking in adolescence where girls are twice as likely to be victimized (Statistics Canada, 2013). Boys appear to be more at risk in the 8 to 11 years age range. Overall, research findings on gender are not consistent and gender as a risk factor is the subject of debate in the field.
- Children who presents greater than average challenge to parent: disability and temperament
- Children with physical, cognitive and emotional disabilities are more likely to experience family violence than other children (Leventhal, 1996). Not only are these children at greater risk because of the increased care demands put on their parents but also because of their decreased physical and cognitive abilities (Hibbard, Desch, & Larry, 2007). Children with disabilities may not perceive maltreatment as inappropriate as they may not possess the cognitive reasoning abilities to know otherwise. For hypothesized similar reasons, difficult temperament, in comparison to an easy temperament, has been found to be associated with increased risk for child maltreatment in high risk situations (Casanueva et al., 2010). When combined with negative parental characteristics such as poor coping skills, poor ability to empathize with the child, or low emotion regulation, a child with difficult temperament is more likely to be maltreated than a child with an easy temperament as they may pose more challenges for parents to deal with and exacerbate risk related traits in their parents more readily.
- Views expressed by the child
- Children who have access to their own lawyer throughout high conflict parental divorce involving domestic violence reports feeling as though they have been heard by the court, as well as feeling safer and less likely to be harassed by the abuser (Fotheringham, Dunbar, & Hensley, 2013). While there are many factors involved in deciding whether or not to include the views expressed by the child in determining custody and access arrangements, fear expressed by the child should be taken seriously.
- Child has summoned help for abused parent (e.g., 911 calls)
One factor that may increase the risk of harm to children is whether or not a child has summoned help for the parent who is being abused. There may be an adverse reaction from the abusive parent, or even from the victimized parent, towards the child for breaking the “secret of the abuse”; this can lead to an increased risk of emotional and physical abuse of the child. One study asked mothers who were victims of domestic violence about the range of intervention by their children (Edleson et al., 2003).
Results indicated that just over 70% of mothers reported that their children yelled something from a different room, 75% reported their children yelled at the perpetrator while in the same room, 40% reported their children called for help, and 53% reported that their children physically intervened.
2.2.3 General Parental Factors
Below are mother-related, father-related, and parental-related factors that may increase the risk of harm to children experiencing family violence. It is important to note that any of the “mother-related” or “father-related” risk factors may be found in either gender. In this report, however, certain factors that are associated with either mothers or fathers were identified in the literature as having a strong relationship between the risk factor and that particular gender.
18.104.22.168 Factors commonly associated with mothers
- Young maternal age
- Some studies have found that younger mothers, particularly teenage mothers, perpetrated higher rates of child abuse than did older mothers (Buchholz & Korn-Bursztyn, 1993; Kinard & Klerman, 1980). This finding may be due to lack of social supports, high maternal stress and low socioeconomic status.
- A mother's use of retribution violence
- Domestic violence may occur in the presence of multiple forms of family violence such as parent-child aggression and women's violence directed at their partner. Some mothers who are victims of domestic violence may assault their partners out of self-defense or retaliation after years of violence (e.g. Jones, 2009; Felson & Lane, 2010). Children's exposure to this violence is also harmful to their development and may be associated with their overall adjustment problems. This exposure has been shown to be associated with an increase in externalizing behaviours and aggression in children (McDonald, Jouriles, Tart & Minze, 2009).
- Views of parent about child's safety with abuser
- Victims' concerns about their safety and the risks their children may face as well as their intuition about these circumstances are important risk factors (Weisz, Tolman & Saunders, 2000). However these concerns may not be reported or the court may not always take these claims into serious consideration as judicial officers may believe the woman is using these claims as leverage to gain custody of the children (Jaffe, Lemon & Poisson, 2003; Hardesty & Chung, 2006). However, it is important to incorporate the views of the victim in determining custody due to their knowledge of the risk that the child may encounter when with the abuser, especially unsupervised following the separation (Hardesty & Chung, 2006).
22.214.171.124 Factors commonly associated with fathers
- Personality characteristics
There are certain personality characteristics seen in abusers that have been linked with increased risk of danger to both partners and children, especially following separation or divorce.
Entitlement. Many abusers feel that their wishes and needs are above the needs of other members of their family. Research has shown that abusers who exhibit signs of entitlement are more resistant to change and are not only less likely to cater to the needs of their children but instead, expect their children to cater to their needs (Bancroft, Silverman & Ritchie, 2012).
Selfishness. Abusers often focus on their own needs over those of their family members and treat them as if they are their possessions (Wallace & Roberson, 2011).
Control. Research has shown that the more controlling the abuser, the more likely he is to involve his children in the pattern of abuse (Bancroft, Silverman & Ritchie, 2012). When separation or divorce occurs (particularly when the abuser is not the initiator) the abuser will often feel as if he is losing his control or power (Hardesty, Khaw, Chung, & Martin, 2008).
Manipulation. Manipulation is often used post-separation to control family members more covertly. Often abusers persuade children to turn against their mothers by manipulating them to believe the abuse was either their mother's or even their own fault (Bancroft, Silverman, & Ritchie, 2012).
- Risk of psychological abuse and manipulation of children post-separation
- Research has indicated that abusers can have verbally abusive parenting styles (Bancroft, Silverman & Ritchie, 2012; Wallace & Roberson, 2011). This risk is often elevated following a separation or divorce (Statistics Canada, 2011).
- History of sexual and physical abuse toward the children
- Research has indicated that there is a high risk of perpetrators of domestic violence physically and sexually abusing their children perpetrated by abusers (Bancroft, Silverman & Ritchie, 2012; Wallace & Roberson, 2011). Currently there are no studies that show this risk decreases post-separation. In fact, it would make logical sense that the risk increases post-separation because of one parent's inability to monitor or intervene with the abusive parent (Bancroft, Silverman & Ritchie, 2012). This is because the child will be spending time with each parent outside the presence of the other parent.
- Abusive father has military training
- Research studies have found that rates of domestic violence are approximately one to three times higher in military samples than samples from the general population (Marshall, Panuzio & Taft, 2005). Individuals with military training or who work in the military are at a greater risk of causing significant victim injury and negative child outcomes to their families with servicemen reporting a significantly higher rate of severe husband-to-wife violence than their civilian counterparts. Furthermore Milner and Gold (1986) found that active duty servicemen who had perpetrated domestic violence in the past or were currently perpetrating domestic violence were significantly more likely to demonstrate elevated child abuse potential than nonviolent servicemen. Precipitating factors include posttraumatic stress disorder due to combat exposure, military service factors, relationship adjustment, childhood trauma, and other demographic factors.
- Abusive father suspects infidelity in relationship
- Research has indicated that adult victims of domestic violence are at an increased risk of homicide if their abusive partner suspects infidelity (Chimbos, 1998). Sexual jealousy is defined as the abuser having a preoccupation with his partner's sexual unfaithfulness based on unfounded evidence. The Ontario Domestic Violence Death Review Committee found that in 34% of domestic homicide cases, sexual jealousy was observed (Ontario DVDRC, 2009). Sexual jealousy or suspected infidelity can also be connected to an abusive father who questions the paternity of his child and can increase the risk of harm to both the adult victim and children. One study found that men, who were convicted of domestic violence, treated their children better and were less likely to inflict serious injury on their partners if they felt that their children physically resembled them (Burch & Gallup, 2000).
- Abusive father has perpetrated domestic violence in previous relationships
- Some domestic violence perpetrators have used abusive behaviour with multiple victims and have affected the lives of many children (Bancroft, Silverman & Ritchie, 2011). As this pattern continues across relationships, the impact is likely more pronounced and requiring community intervention through specialized programs (Scott & Lishak, 2012). This pattern is suggestive of severe and repeated violence which increases the likelihood of harm to children exposed to this violence (Bancroft, Silverman & Ritchie, 2011).
- Abusive father's noncompliance with protective court orders, child protection orders, or child support plans
Research has shown that some adult victims of domestic violence do not feel that protection orders have an impact as they continued to experience abuse post-separation while a protection order was in place (Humphreys & Thiara, 2003). In one study 25% of women who had protection orders against their ex-partners found that violence continued after separation even with the presence of an order and that the police or the courts were unhelpful in acting upon breaches (Humphreys & Thiara, 2003).
Experts also identified that a risk factor for child harm during parental separation is abusive fathers who do not comply with child protection orders or child support plans. Non-compliance with these orders signifies that the perpetrator is not willing to work with others in order to bring about stability and non-violence to his family.
- Refusal to accept responsibility for past violent or abusive actions
- When an abuser continues to blame the victim for the abuse, and/or minimizes or denies his actions despite documentation, he is more likely to reoffend (Bancroft, Silverman & Ritchie, 2012). Furthermore, non-willingness to participate in a batterer intervention program is additional evidence of refusal to accept responsibility. Research has consistently shown that men who fail to complete a court-ordered batterer intervention program are two to three times more likely to re-assault their partner than men who complete a program (Babcock, Green, & Robie, 2004; Gondolf, 2012; Klein & Tobin, 2008).
- Refusal to accept the end of a relationship
- Following separation or divorce, an abuser who does not accept the end of this relationship poses greater danger to his former spouse and children (Bancroft, Silverman & Ritchie, 2012). Former violence can escalate to lethal levels when an abuser who formerly had control over his family has suddenly lost control when the victim attempts to end the relationship (Wallace & Roberson, 2011).
- Access to firearms
- Having access to a firearm can increase the risk of child homicide, particularly paternal filicide (father killing his child). Research has shown that a firearm was the most common cause of death for paternal filicide-suicide cases (Kauppi et al., 2010). Access to or possession of a firearm also increases the risk for intimate partner homicide (Campbell et al., 2003).
- Criminal history of perpetrator
- Some perpetrators of domestic violence may be more resistant to intervention because they are committed to an anti-social life style and criminal conduct beyond their family home, for example gang membership as identified by experts interviewed. This criminal history represents a risk to re-offend and creates more harm for both adult victims and children exposed to this violence (Hilton, Harris, Popham & Lang, 2010). The criminal history is a risk factor that is also associated with dropping out of treatment. Ironically, the clients who stand to benefit the most from community interventions are the least likely to finish treatment (Olver, Stockdale & Wormith, 2011) and may continue to pose a risk to children in these circumstances.
- Stalking/harassing/abusing children through social network sites
- From 2010 to 2011, Canada has seen a large surge (59%) in engagement with social networking sites (e.g., Facebook) with youth under the age of 18 (comScore, 2012). Experts identified that parents may use social networking sites to stalk, harass, and further abuse their children particularly during parental separation and when they do not have custody or access to their children. Perpetrators of domestic violence may use social networking sites to contact their children to gain information about the adult victim or to brainwash the child to turn against the other parent. Social networking sites can also be used by an abusive parent to perpetuate further maltreatment (e.g., emotional, verbal abuse) against the child.
- Animal/pet abuse
- Research has indicated that animal abuse has been reported in families experiencing violence (DeGue & DiLillo, 2009). Animal abuse has been shown as a risk factor for domestic violence and domestic homicide (Faver & Strand, 2003; Walton-Moss et al., 2005). Often adult victims refuse to leave an abusive relationship because they fear that their partner will harm their pet. Furthermore, DeGue and DiLillo (2009) found that participants who reported a history of family violence in childhood, specifically child physical and emotional abuse and exposure to severe domestic violence, were more likely to report witnessing animal cruelty.
126.96.36.199 Factors commonly associated with both parents
- Non-Biological Relationship with child(ren)
- Having a non-biologically-related (especially male) parent or caregiver is a potent risk factor for child victimization (Daly & Wilson, 1996; Yampolskaya, Greenbaum, & Berson, 2009). For example, in an analysis of almost 4,000 homicides of children under age five in the U.S., men were eight times and women almost three times more likely to kill stepchildren than biological children (Weekes-Shackelford & Shackelford, 2004).
- Parental substance abuse
- Paternal substance abuse has been found by many studies to increase the likelihood of abusive behaviors to both spouses and children (Dong et al, 2004; Famularo, Kinsherriff, & Fenton, 1992; Hartley, 2002; Kellerher, Chaffin, Hollenberg, & Fischer, 1994). Paternal substance abuse has also been found to be associated with maternal substance abuse (Barnett & Fagan, 1993). Therefore, children who have fathers abusing substances may have mothers doing so as well. Due to the fact that abusing substances alters mental functioning, judgment, inhibitions and protective capacity, parents who are abusing substances may neglect the needs of their children, be more aggressive, may utilize inappropriate child discipline and child-rearing choices, and may form unhealthy attachments with their children (Ammerman, Kolko, Kirisci, Blackson & Dawes, 1999; Eiden, Edwards, & Leonard, 2002). Research has shown that fathers who abuse substances tend to be less sensitive and demonstrate higher levels of negative affect toward their children, ultimately leading to unhealthy attachments between these children and their fathers (Eiden, Chavez, & Leonard, 1999; Eiden, Edwards, & Leonard). Substance abuse problems can also lead to increased volatility and resistance to change.
- Parental psychopathology/mental illness
A number of research studies have identified different typologies for perpetrators of domestic violence (Cavanaugh & Gelles, 2005). When reviewing all the different typologies, it appears that the most violent perpetrators are those with high levels of psychopathology. These perpetrators are also more likely to have criminal histories. Other perpetrators of domestic violence may have traits associated with borderline personality disorder and may experience depression and anxiety. These perpetrators may also experience delusional jealousy and are not able to tolerate separation from their partner (Cavanaugh & Gelles). Research on fathers who perpetrate child physical abuse indicates that they experience more anger, depression, hostility, paranoid ideation, and stress in parenting than non-abusive fathers (Francis & Wolfe, 2008). Physically abusive fathers also exhibit less empathy for their children.
Research has found a trend toward increased risk of child physical and sexual abuse with mothers who have a psychiatric disorder (Walsh, MacMillan & Jamieson, 2002). Furthermore, there is a significant amount of research that has looked at maternal mental health issues and filicide (Bourget, Grace, & Whitehurst, 2007; Friedman & Resnick, 2007; Kauppi et al., 2010). Specifically, research has indicated that mothers who kill their children were most likely to suffer from some sort of psychiatric disorder, mainly major depressive disorder including postpartum depression and bipolar disorder (Bourget & Gagné, 2002; Koenen & Thompson, 2008). The motives for maternal filicide are most often perceived by the mother as altruistic with the intent of ending the child victims' suffering or acutely psychotic which does not involve a rational motive (Resnick, 1969; Friedman, Horowitz & Resnick, 2005).
- Lack of agreement regarding parenting in blended families
- Parenting in blended families may be difficult and can cause conflict when there is disagreement between parents on how to discipline or parent stepchildren. This can exacerbate the issues between a parent and stepchild and increase the stepchild's risk of harm. Over the last 30 years, there has been an increasing phenomenon referred to as the Cinderella Effect where stepchildren are at a dramatically increased risk of being the victims of physical abuse and homicide, relative to children living with both biological parents (Daly & Wilson, 1998; 2001). This has been theorized to occur due to evolved parental psychological mechanisms that promote nurturing and protective behaviors in biological parents towards their young being only partially, if at all, activated in stepparents. As a result, according to Daly and Wilson, stepparents are more likely to physically abuse their stepchildren, due to being placed in a parental role with a decreased intrinsic level of commitment to the child's wellbeing and tolerance for their behavior.
- History of maltreatment of that parent in childhood
- Children are more at risk for maltreatment in homes where mothers have their own history of abuse in childhood (Sidebotham & Golding, 2001). Furthermore, mothers who have been victimized in both childhood and adulthood have more maternal depressive symptoms, harsher parenting, and more externalizing and internalizing behaviour problems in their children (Dubowitz et al., 2001; Kaufman & Zigler, 1993). Similarly, fathers with a history of maltreatment are more likely to engage in maltreating their own children. This is particularly relevant with fathers who saw their own experience of abuse as normative or justified (Guterman & Lee, 2005; Renner & Slack, 2006).
- Parent previously abused or neglected a child
- Research has indicated that a common risk factor for recurrence of child maltreatment is maltreating a child in the past (Cavanagh, Dobash & Dobash, 2007; Coohey, 2006). Data from fatal child abuse cases indicated the majority of perpetrators had a substantial history of violence and had perpetrated significant previous violence against the child victim (Cavanagh, Dobash & Dobash, 2007). A study on recidivism among physically abusive fathers indicated that the common risk factors for recurrence were a history of child maltreatment and having seriously injured a child in the past (Coohey, 2006).
- Uses physical punishment and other aversive behaviours
- Research has indicated that parents' use of physical punishment as a regular form of child discipline is a strong predictor of physical abuse (Stith et al., 2009). One study revealed that abusive parents engage in significantly more aversive behaviours towards their children (e.g., expressing anger and disapproval; terrorizing, threatening or humiliating; physical negative touch) than non-abusive parents (Wilson et al., 2008). Specifically, abusive fathers direct more averse behaviours, control and criticism toward their children than non-abusive fathers (Silber et al. 1993).
- Parental stress
- Margolin and Gordis (2003) found domestic violence to be associated with child abuse; however, only the cases where there is the presence of high parental stress. Similarly, research has demonstrated an increased level of day-to-day stress in families where neglect is present, in comparison with those families who do not neglect their children (Whipple & Webster-Stratton, 1991). This stress may be related to other risk factors such as low socioeconomic status and circumstances that go along with poverty such as unemployment, physical and mental illness, and marital problems.
- Parenting skills
- Research suggests that parents who abuse their children have more negative and/or higher expectations of their children and less understanding of appropriate developmental norms (Goldman, Salus, Wolcott & Kennedy, 2003). Parents with a lack of knowledge about normal child development may form unrealistic expectations of their child and as these expectations are unmet, inappropriate punishment (for example, a parent hitting a one-year-old for wetting the bed) is administered.
- Parents distorted beliefs about gender expectations
- Although there is no empirical evidence to support distorted beliefs about gender expectations as a potential risk for child harm, experts found in their practice that if a child did not meet the gender role expectations of their parents they were more vulnerable to abuse. One study found that gay men were more likely to be abused by their fathers in adolescence compared to heterosexual men (Harry, 1989). Furthermore, the abuse was related to a history of childhood femininity, having poor relationships with fathers, and engaging in gay sex during adolescence.
2.2.4 Community, Societal and Cultural factors
Below are factors associated with the family's community, societal and cultural context that may increase a child's risk of harm.
- In terms of vulnerability, low socioeconomic status has been found to be a strong predictor of child maltreatment (Browne & Saqi, 1988). Research has found that American children in families with annual incomes less than $15,000 are more than 22 times more likely to be harmed by child abuse and neglect as compared to children from families with annual incomes above $30,000 (Sedlak & Broadhurst, 1996). There are various theories as to why this association exists. Some posit the notion that increased poverty leads to increased parental stress and others suggest that factors that induce poverty may also strain parent's ability to parent and access resources for support.
- Social isolation
- Research has shown that parents who maltreat their children experience greater isolation, loneliness, and less social support (Chan, 1994). Parents with fewer financial resources may have fewer social ties and be less able to identify and seek out sources of help for themselves and their children, which may add to the risk associated with domestic violence (Cox, Kotch & Everson, 2003). Parents who are socially isolated may not have adequate role models for parenting and often feel less social accountability in terms of their parenting.
- Rural families
Living in a rural community may increase risks of being trapped in an abusive relationship and having difficulty accessing services. Victimization surveys indicate that post-separation domestic violence rates are higher for rural communities than those for suburban and urban areas (DeKeseredy & Rennison, 2013). Some of the problems and challenges may rest with geographic isolation and lack of access to specialized services (Wendt, 2009) as well as the increased presence of weapons as a normal part of rural life (Doherty, 2012).
- Community violence
Research has indicated that certain neighbourhood variables (e.g., violent crime, child care burden, perceived neighbourhood resources, community disorganization, neighbourhood instability, drug trafficking, juvenile delinquency) can increase risk of child maltreatment (Coulton et al., 2007). Researchers have identified two explanations for why neighbourhoods/communities may affect parenting behaviour. First, neighbourhoods that are socially disorganized tend to have weak social networks and parents do not receive much neighbourhood guidance or support. Often maltreating parents rate their neighbours as less helpful and friendly and perceive their neighbourhood and social networks to be less cohesive and supportive. Second, high-risk neighbourhoods may be less likely to have resources needed for supporting parents or the resources that do exist are overburdened (Zielinski & Bradshaw, 2006).
- Vulnerable populations
Some communities and groups are more vulnerable than others to family violence. Numerous studies and reports in Canada over the years have documented the higher incidence of domestic violence among Aboriginal peoples (Amnesty International Canada, 2004; Brennan, 2011; Ursel, 2006, 2008; Proulx & Perrault, 2000; Ontario Native Women's Association, 1989). Research has also found an over-representation of Aboriginal children in Canadian child protection services. The rate of substantiated child maltreatment investigations was four times higher in cases with children of Aboriginal heritage than cases with children not of Aboriginal heritage (Public Health Agency of Canada, 2010). These findings are related to the impact of historical abuse against these communities such as lost generations of parenting as children were forced from their homes and families to attend and live at residential schools as well as poverty and lack of access to basic resources. Many residential school survivors report that one of the long term impacts of their experiences was the destruction of their parenting skills and ability to offer security and stability to their own children.
To date, there has been limited research examining the intersection of immigration and child welfare, although there has been some recent exploration of the intersection between child protection involvement and domestic violence experienced by immigrant women (Alaggia & Maiter, 2006; Alaggia, Regehr, & Rishchynski, 2009). Children in immigrant families may be at greater risk for experiencing family violence due to adversities stemming from familial stress involved with the migration and acculturation experience; traumatic experiences in the country of origin; poverty from unemployment or underemployment; differences in culture, language and traditions; isolation; racism and discrimination; and a lack of knowledge of formal supports (Ma et al., 2013).
Canadian child welfare investigations involving immigrant families reveal that the most common caregiver functioning concern was few social supports followed by being a victim of domestic violence. Of all the investigations involving immigrant families, physical abuse was the main concern in about one third of the cases (36%), followed by exposure to domestic violence (19%), neglect (17%), emotional maltreatment (4%), and sexual abuse (3%) (Ma et al, 2013).
The issue of “honour” killing has also received significant media attention recently with an estimated 10 to 15 cases of “honour” killings in Canada over the past decade (Korteweg, 2012). “Honour-related” violence is defined as a “family-initiated, planned violent response to the perception that a woman, as wife or daughter, has violated the honour of her family by crossing a boundary of sexual appropriateness” (Korteweg, p. 136). Although it has not been researched extensively, as “honour” killings in Canada are very rare, when “honour” is the paramount ideology in a family, children, especially young girls, are at risk of extreme forms of family violence.
- Inadequate resources and support
In order to have parenting plans that protect adult victims and their children after separation, parents need to have access to legal and social service resources (e.g., lawyer, transitional housing). In some cases, resources cannot be accessed due to cultural, language and financial barriers. Additionally, problems may arise when victims receive support from professionals who lack an understanding of domestic violence and its impact on adult victims and children. For example, pressure may be placed on an adult victim to agree to a shared parenting plan or to grant extensive access to an abuser as a way of settling potential litigation, which may in fact endanger the adult victim and the children (Meier, 2009).
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