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Intergenerational Transmission of Parenting

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Family
Wordcount: 7135 words Published: 18th May 2020

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The present meta-analysis revealed a medium and significant summary effect of intergenerational transmission of child maltreatment, that can be regarded as a substantial effect in light of the magnitude of effects of other risk factors for child maltreatment victimization. Therefore, it is important that clinical professionals be aware of the process of intergenerational continuity in child maltreatment. As such, they should pay attention to a parental history of experiencing child maltreatment in both assessment and treatment, so that prevention of future child maltreatment can be strengthened and chances for breaking the maltreatment cycle increase. Yet, for a better understanding of the maltreatment cycle, primary research of high quality is needed. As already noted by previous researchers (Ertem et al., 2000;  Thornberry et al., 2012), studies of high quality examining intergenerational continuity in child maltreatment are generally scarce. Moreover, our review showed that study quality is negatively related to effect size magnitude. Hence, there is an urge for examining the maltreatment cycle in properly conducted studies, and we hope future maltreatment researchers will take this challenge.

Intergenerational Transmission of Child Maltreatment

Part A: Introduction and Background

This report focuses on investigating intergenerational transmission of parenting and risk factors associated with child abuse and maltreatment within the Indigenous Australian community and aims to identify preventative measures. The World Health Organization (2019) defines maltreatment and abuse of children as“…all forms of physical and/or emotional ill-treatment, sexual abuse, neglect or negligent treatment or commercial or other exploitation, resulting in actual or potential harm to the child’s health, survival, development or dignity in the context of a relationship of responsibility, trust or power…”.

Child maltreatment and abuse severely impacts victims, multiple generations and the community. Victims often experience delayed psycho-social, mental and physical development which affects the individual throughout their life span.

In Australia, the Queensland Government Child Protection Act 1999, defines harm to a child as any significant detrimental effect on a child’s emotional, physical or psychological wellbeing regardless of that harm being caused by physical, psychological, sexual, emotional abuse or neglect due to a single, series or a combination of acts, omissions or circumstances. how the maltreatment or abuse occurs. Arguably, indigenous populations such as our Indigenous Australian and Torres Strait Islander identifying communities have a higher prevalence and incidence. While definitions of harm, abuse and neglect may slightly differ throughout Australia and internationally, maltreatment and abuse of children is a worldwide pervasive problem, its consequences are associated with emotional development, neurobiological deficits, academic achievement, psychopathology and neuro-biological deficits.  (Widom, 2014) It is important to understand the prevalence and associated risks of child maltreatment and its causes to effectively develop preventative strategies and programs that target identified risks within our population (Stoltenborgh, Bakermans-Kranenburg, Alink and Van IJzendoorn, 2015; Widom, 2014)

Part B: Origins and Causes

The abuser – Intergenerational transmission of parenting – Not all abused children go on to become abusers – Other abuse (physical/psychological) within family heightens risk – Trauma with the life span will heighten risk – Unrealistic expectations of children  The abused -Characteristics of the abused heightens risk  The context What behaviours do abused children display? Effects – Physical injuries including self-harm – Cognitive deficits, academic difficulties – Social/emotional and behavioural problems – Higher than average rates of psychological issues – Empathy deficits – Poor memory – Many shows great resilience

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The Stoltenborgh, Bakermans-Kranenburg, Alink, and Van IJzendoorn (2015), meta-analytic review studied prevalence rates of child neglect, maltreatment and abuse from participants via self-report questionnaires. Stoltenborgh, et al. (2015) study reported participants experienced childhood maltreatment in the following categories as: emotional abuse at a rate of 36.3%; physical abuse at a rate of 22.6%; emotional at a rate of 16.3%; physical neglect at a rate of 16.3%; and sexual abuse at a rate of 12.7%. Studies by other researchers have shown that prevalence is similar across society collectively in comparison to indigenous communities. (Mulder, Kuiper, Van der Put, Stams, and Assink, 2018; Stith, Liu, Davies, Boykin, Alder, Harris, Dees, 2009) The following table outlines a bioecological analysis of child abuse, neglect and maltreatment of children of the indigenous community in Australia.

Table: Bioecological Analysis of Indigenous Australian child abuse, neglect and maltreatment







Indigenous Australian Children

Influences via familial environment: mother, father, siblings, grandparents;

Influences via the relationships between MSs e.g. mother, father; child and parents; aunts and uncles; grandparents

Indirect influences via environments or people outside of the child’s MSs

Influences via country, cultural, sub-cultural factors

Time-related effects



Child’s characteristics similar to the abuser

Intergenerational transmission of parenting

Abuser has history of being abused or

Abuse neglected physical, psychological, emotional or sexual occuring within family

Trauma across the lifespan

Unrealistic expectations of child/ren

Availability of:

Adequate housing, nutrition, education, social and health services

Elder support and education

Government policies (federal and local) & funding for health, income support and intervention program

Outreach program that work with communities to address cultural laws, practices and traditional interventions

Cross-generational history of neglect, maltreatment and abuse

General issues related to normalising violence and abuse

Long cross-generational disadvantage


Health issues


Socio-economic status



Lack of family, community or social support

Access to health services

Socio-economic status

Level of educated

Domestic violence

Many different risk factors contribute to the incidence and prevalence of child maltreatment, such as: child and parental-related factors; family-related factors; presence of community-related and socio-economic risk factors surrounding the family; society and community attitude towards children and abuse, neglect or maltreatment. (Brown, Cohen, Johnson, and Salzinger, 1998) Previous meta-analytic reviews by Mulder, et al. (2018) and Stith et al. (2009) theorised and confirmed that parents/guardians being most proximal to children are most determinative of the occurrence of abuse. Factors of significance include parents experiencing stress; poor parenting skills; intergenerational transmission of sexual, physical, emotional or psychological abuse or neglect; low-self esteem; mental or physical health issues; and current or past mis/use of alcohol and drugs. Parents learn how to parent from the way they were parented as children and often react to experiences from their childhood. Abusive, negative and positive parenting practices tend to transfer from generation to generation, also known as, intergenerational transmission of parenting. The major risk factor for child maltreatment is parents having experienced maltreatment, neglect or abuse as children themselves and is six times greater than those parents who did not. (Finzi-Dottan and Hagel, 2014; Puttalaz, Constanzo, Grimes & Sherman, 1998; Sroufe, Egeland, Carlson, and Collins, 2005) The main behavioural psychology assumptions as to why intergenerational child abuse occurs is that parents whom were mistreated as children are likely to have had a secure attachment to their caregivers or parents themselves which contributes to an impaired regulation of emotion and behaviour, resulting in an inability to self-regulate impulsivity, irritability and aggressive behaviours, pervasive mental illness later in life. When maltreated children become parents, interactions with their child could trigger past trauma, leading to atypical abusive behaviour. When traumatic triggers and frightening or violent responses occur in the parenting relationship a non-secure attachment between parent and child could form and create an ongoing intergenerational cycle of child abuse or maltreatment. [Goldberg, Benoit, Blokland, & Madigan, 2003; Kerig and Becker, 2010; Stith, et al., 2009] Ultimately, parental history of childhood maltreatment is a single risk factor that may or may not be present with other environmental, cultural or socio-economic risk factors. Social, cultural and environmental risk factors can be unique to a parental history of childhood maltreatment and may be even more important. [Stith, et al., 2009; Goldberg, et al., 2003; Srouf, et al., 2005]

Part C: Recommendations and Conclusion

In conclusion, Intergenerational transmission of abuse is a complex problem which requires us to strengthen our knowledge and understanding of the actual effect of intergenerational transmission of abuse and parenting. Parental experience of childhood abuse should be considered account when conducting risk assessment of parents to aid in identifying families and children who need preventative or acute care. Identifying parental history of childhood maltreatment may assist in treating parental attachment-related problems and unresolved trauma. Proper treatment programs could significantly reduce the risk associated with future maltreating parental behaviour.


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