Risk Factors That May Identify Child Abuse

Childhood physical abuse is high risk when parents are unemployed, divorced or addicted

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) A survey of around 26,000 adults found three factors raised the risk for physical child abuse by 15 times. Healthcare professionals can help keep an eye out for these risks.

“It appears that children from homes with parental addictions, parental unemployment and parental divorce are particularly vulnerable to abuse. Such knowledge will hopefully improve the targeting of screening for childhood physical abuse,” said the lead author.

"Talk to a therapist about any abuse."

Esme Fuller-Thomson, PhD, MSW, professor and Sandra Rotman Chair in the Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work, and Jami-Leigh Sawyer, doctoral student, in the Department of Family and Community Medicine at the University of Toronto, worked together for the investigation.

For the study, people from the Statistics Canada’s National Population Health Survey from 1994-1995 and the Canadian Community Health Survey in 2005 were contacted. Over 80 percent of people in both groups responded, yielding around 26,000 responses from individuals over the age of 18.

Responders answered questions about their childhood experiences with childhood physical abuse (CPA) and risk factors for CPA, such as parental divorce, unemployment and addiction.

Survey results indicated that only 3.4 percent of those who experienced CPA did not have at least one of these three parental risk factors.

However, those who had parental divorce alone reported 8 and 11 percent CPA, those with parental unemployment alone reported 9 and 10 percent CPA and those with parental addictions alone reported 18 and 20 percent CPA.

The rate of CPA jumped to 36 and 41 percent for responders who had parental incidence of all three risk factors.

Authors calculated the risk of CPA was 15 times higher for kids who had all three risk factors compared to those who had none.

Authors recommended healthcare professionals keep an eye out for kids living in situations where at least two of the risk factors are present.

Ms. Sawyer said, “We were so astonished by the magnitude of the association between the combination of these three risk factors and child abuse in the 1995 survey that we replicated the analysis with a different sample from a 2005 survey.”

This study was published in December in Child: Care, Health & Development. No funding information was provided for this study. No conflicts of interest were reported.

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Review Date: 
December 27, 2012
Last Updated:
January 2, 2013