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September 2008Vol. 9, No. 7Child Maltreatment and Healthy Marriage

A new policy brief from the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) explores childhood maltreatment and its impact on the potential for a healthy, lasting marriage later in life. Many studies have documented the experience of childhood traumas such as sexual abuse and severe physical abuse and their association with negative marital outcomes, most notably by affecting intimacy and personal relationship skills. The long-term consequences of child abuse and neglect often are the same factors that serve as barriers to forming and maintaining a healthy marriage, such as:

  • Substance use and mental health problems
  • Low educational attainment and unemployment
  • Poverty and homelessness
  • Unintended pregnancy
  • Risk for intimate partner violence

For some children, their experience with the child welfare system may add to their risk factors. Unstable foster care placements, inadequate levels of services, or aging out of the system without a permanent adult connection may place children at risk for developing attachment issues that affect their ability to form healthy relationships in adulthood.

Findings are discussed in terms of the development of healthy marriage policies and programs that consider the unique needs of individuals who have experienced child maltreatment. In particular, the brief promotes a Marriage-Plus policy approach, which provides marriage education in conjunction with economic and other support services that vulnerable families need to promote protective factors that can improve a couple's relationship and prevent maltreatment when children are present.

"Healthy Marriage and the Legacy of Child Maltreatment: A Child Welfare Perspective," written by Tiffany Conway and Rutledge Q. Hutson, is available for download on the CLASP website: (PDF - 96 KB)