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Intergenerational Transmission of Child Abuse and Neglect: Real or Detection Bias?

NCJ Number
Science Volume: 347 Issue: 6229 Dated: March 2015 Pages: 1480-1485
Cathy Spatz Widom; Sally J. Czaja; Kimberly A. DuMont
Date Published
March 2015
6 pages
Since the literature has been contradictory regarding whether parents who were abused as children have a greater tendency to abuse their own children, this prospective 30-year follow-up study interviewed individuals with documented histories of childhood abuse and neglect and matched comparisons and a subset of their children.
The study assessed maltreatment based on child protective service (CPS) agency records and reports by parents, nonparents, and offspring. The study found that the extent of the intergenerational transmission of abuse and neglect depended largely on the source of the information used. Individuals with histories of childhood abuse and neglect had higher rates of being reported to CPS for child maltreatment but did not self-report more physical and sexual abuse than matched comparisons. Offspring of parents with histories of childhood abuse and neglect were more likely to report sexual abuse and neglect and that CPS was concerned about them at some point in their lives. The strongest evidence for the intergenerational transmission of maltreatment indicates that offspring are at risk for childhood neglect and sexual abuse, but detection or surveillance bias may account for the greater likelihood of CPS reports. (Publisher abstract modified)