• September 2014
  • Vol. 15, No. 8

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Breaking the Cycle of Maltreatment

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has outlined an overall public health strategy for child maltreatment prevention that involves the promotion of safe, stable, and nurturing relationships (SSNRs) between children and their caregivers. Researchers recently conducted a study examining the potential role of SSNRs in preventing the intergenerational continuity of child maltreatment. The study attempts to establish a stronger evidence base for previous findings indicating that child maltreatment victimization increases the likelihood of maltreatment perpetration during adulthood. To further understand the operating mechanisms driving these associations, the researchers also tested whether the presence of SSNRs in early adulthood decreases the likelihood of perpetration among maltreated individuals and offsets or buffers the negative effect of maltreatment.

Researchers examined these relationships using data from 1,000 participants who were first surveyed while attending middle school in 1988 in the Rochester, NY, area. Data on participants' experienced maltreatment, maltreatment perpetration, and a series of SSNR variables, including relationship satisfaction, parental satisfaction, attachment to their children, attachment to parental figures, and perceived support from parental figures, were measured.

Results indicated that a history of child maltreatment significantly increased the odds of maltreatment perpetration later in life, when participants were between the ages of 21 and 30. Researchers also found that three of the five SSNRs, including relationship satisfaction, parental satisfaction, and attachment to their children, were protective factors, meaning that they significantly reduced the odds of maltreatment intergenerational continuity.

This study is one of several articles that were published in a special issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health that focused on examining the role of SSNRs in the intergenerational continuity of child maltreatment. Other articles within the special issue cover the following:

  • Targeting contextual and interpersonal factors associated with breaking the cycle of intergenerational abuse
  • The importance of nurturing relationships with romantic partners in disrupting intergenerational continuity of child abuse
  • Mitigating effects of caring and supportive relationships in abusive disciplining
  • A meta-analysis of the moderating role of SSNRs in intergenerational continuity of child maltreatment
  • The complex etiology and lasting effects of child maltreatment
  • Advances in the understanding of intergenerational transmission parenting practices and the role of SSNRs

"Breaking the Cycle of Maltreatment: The Role of Safe, Stable, and Nurturing Relationships," by Terence Thornberry, Kimberly Henry, Carolyn Smith, Timothy Ireland, Sarah Greenman, and Rosalyn Lee, Journal of Adolescent Health: Interrupting Child Maltreatment Across Generations Through Safe, Stable, Nurturing Relationships, 53(4), 2013, is available here:


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