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Predicting the Unpredictable?: Identifying High-Risk Versus Low-Risk Parents With Intellectual Disabilities

NCJ Number
Child Abuse & Neglect Volume: 34 Issue: 9 Dated: September 2010 Pages: 699-710
Sue McGaw; Tamara Scully; Colin Pritchard
Date Published
September 2010
12 pages
In attempting to identify risk factors for perpetrating child abuse among parents with intellectual disabilities (IDs), this study focused on whether perception of family support differed among parents with IDs, referring professionals, and a specialist parenting service; whether multivariate familial and demographic factors differentiated "high-risk" from "low-risk" parenting; and the impact of partner relationships on parental competency and risk status.
The study found that the factors most strongly related to a parent's high risk for perpetrating child abuse were ID mothers who reported their own childhood trauma (emotional abuse and physical neglect in particular), parents having special needs in addition to their IDs, or having children with special needs. Other "high-risk" factors were mothers with ID having male partners who did not have ID and/or who had histories of antisocial behaviors or criminality. Contrary to popular expectations, the following factors did not distinguish "high-risk" from "low-risk" parents: IQ level of the main parent, partner relationship status, parent's age, employment, amenities, valued support, and parents' perception of need. Overall, these findings present further challenges regarding how agencies perceive and interpret the needs of parents with IDs in relation to the services they provide to families deemed at high risk for child abuse. The findings particularly dispel the assumption by some that all families with ID parents need child protection services. The study methodology involved secondary analysis of data collected from 101 parents with IDs and 172 of their children, all of whom had been referred to a specialist parenting service over a 5-year period. 2 tables, 3 figures, and 66 references