Understanding Risk and Protective Factors in Child Maltreatment

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Advanced Topics: Child Maltreatment Theory
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Southern Arkansas University
Kimberly Keith, MEd, LPC

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  • Day 3 Summer Session
  • Learning experiences in childhood and young adulthood increase the likelihood of creating a predisposition toward aggressive behavior. History of abuse or family violence, social learning of aggression (individual) Neighborhood violence (exosystem) Local or family culture of physical punishment (exosystem) Societal violence and acceptance of physical punishment of children (macrosystem) Effects of the level of stress and the level of internal tolerance/coping combine to disinhibit anger and aggression.
  • As the abusive process moves into Stage 2, the parent’s previous attempts or methods of managing life stress and child behavior begin to fail significantly in their effectiveness. Stress coping strategies become increasingly negative (excessive alcohol or drug usage, frequent moves, harsh punishment of children) and the parent begins to feel that he or she is losing control over the child, other family members, and related aspects of his or her life. At this point the risk of an abusive incident rises sharply. Factors that increase the likelihood of abuse now are: Mood – a parent’s previous mood of distress and anger toward the child is recalled by the child’s current behavior, leading to an overgeneralized (more angry and aggressive) response. Transfer of Arousal – an abusive parent may become angered and aroused by a previous encounter with someone else (in the exosystem possibly or the microsystem of the family), which lowers his or her threshold for anger and aggression with family members. Negative arousal interferes with rational problem solving and reduces one’s ability to control aggressive or excessive reactions (Vasta, 1982) Protective factors at this point include cognitive-behavioral processes of accurate attribution for the arousal and awareness of alternative, nonabusive responses. During Stage 2 of the development of abusive behavior, the parent begins to view familiar, difficult interactions with the child as being ‘out of control’ and as a deliberate attempt to defy the parent’s authority. Even when the child is relatively compliant and well-mannered, the parent may feel arousal and perceive the child’s crying or fussing to seek attention or assistance, as a deliberate provocation.
  • Stage 3:   In Stage 3, a chronic and escalating pattern of anger and abusive behavior become established. A habitual pattern of stress, arousal, and overgeneralized responses to the child and other significant persons becomes entrenched. Feelings of hopelessness and helplessness surface from repeated failure and frustration. The parent believes that everything will rapidly disintegrate if the loosen the grip that keeps them in tenuous control of the stress in their lives. Also by this time, some children habituate to punishment. The cycle continues negatively as the parent feels the need to increase the intensity of the punishment to maintain strict control; the child avoids the parent and is susceptible to emotional and physical harm; and the child fails to learn the behavior the parent desires.
  • Understanding Risk and Protective Factors in Child Maltreatment

    1. 1. UNDERSTANDING RISK AND PROTECTIVE FACTORS 1999 Wolfe, David A. Child Abuse (2 nd Edition): Implications for Child Development and Psychopathology. 2007 Miller-Perrin, Cindy L. & Perrin, Robin. Child Maltreatment: An introduction
    2. 2. <ul><li>A combination of individual, relational, community, and societal factors contribute to the risk of child maltreatment. Although children are not responsible for the harm inflicted upon them, certain individual characteristics have been found to increase their risk of being maltreated. Risk factors are contributing factors— not direct causes. </li></ul>Risk Factors
    3. 3. Three Types of Risk Factors <ul><li>Fixed marker risk factors cannot be demonstrated to change. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>For example, belonging to a disadvantaged minority group is a risk factor for low academic achievement (Reynolds, Weissberg, & Kasprow, 1992), but such membership cannot be changed; therefore, minority status is a fixed marker risk factor. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>  Variable marker risk factors can be demonstrated to change, but when changed, does not necessarily alter the probability of the outcome. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>For example, a mother's failing to graduate from high school is a risk factor for a child identified as having a disability (Finkelstein & Ramey, 1980). However, simply awarding a diploma to a mother at the birth of her child ultimately will not change her child's educational trajectory; therefore, maternal possession of a high school diploma is a variable marker risk factor. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>  Causal risk factors can be changed and, when changed, they alter the risk of outcome. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>For example, high-quality child care for infants has been demonstrated to increase children's academic achievement (Berlin, Brooks-Cunn, McCarton,& McCormick, 1998); therefore, low-quality child care is a causal risk factor. Causal risk factors include certain child (e.g., cognitive deficits, early behavior and adjustment problems) and family characteristics (e.g., parental psychopathology, poor parenting practices). For example, parent management training has been found to improve the social functioning of children at risk for E/BD (Patterson, 1982). </li></ul></ul>
    4. 4. Examples of Risk Factors for Child Maltreatment <ul><li>Disabilities or mental retardation in children that may increase caregiver burden </li></ul><ul><li>Social isolation of families </li></ul><ul><li>Parents’ lack of understanding of children’s needs and child development </li></ul><ul><li>Parents’ history of domestic abuse </li></ul><ul><li>Poverty and other socioeconomic disadvantage, such as unemployment </li></ul><ul><li>Family disorganization, dissolution, and violence, including intimate partner violence </li></ul><ul><li>Lack of family cohesion </li></ul><ul><li>Substance abuse in family </li></ul><ul><li>Young, single nonbiological parents </li></ul><ul><li>Poor parent-child relationships and negative interactions </li></ul><ul><li>Parental thoughts and emotions supporting maltreatment behaviors </li></ul><ul><li>Parental stress and distress, including depression or other mental health conditions </li></ul><ul><li>Community violence </li></ul>
    5. 5. <ul><li>Protective factors help the family and child resist or ameliorate risk. Protective factors moderate the effects of risk factors. They may lessen the risk of child maltreatment. </li></ul>Protective Factors
    6. 6. Examples of Protective Factors Against Child Abuse <ul><li>Supportive family environment </li></ul><ul><li>Nurturing parenting skills </li></ul><ul><li>Stable family relationships </li></ul><ul><li>Household rules and monitoring of the child </li></ul><ul><li>Parental employment </li></ul><ul><li>Adequate housing </li></ul><ul><li>Access to health care and social services </li></ul><ul><li>Caring adults outside family who can serve as role models or mentors </li></ul><ul><li>Communities that support parents and take responsibility for preventing abuse (DHHS 2003) </li></ul>
    7. 7. <ul><li>Wolfe Transitional Model of Child Physical Abuse </li></ul><ul><li>The model expands on the ecological model of Belsky, which integrates ontogenic (individual), microsystem (family), exosystem (community, neighborhood), and macrosystem (societal) levels of factors associated with child maltreatment to encompass developmental effects and the transactional process of the abuser, the abused, and the family ecology. </li></ul><ul><li>One of the benefits of a transactional or process model is that it leads to intervention points and highlights the importance of risk and protective factors to moderate the trajectory of child abuse. </li></ul><ul><li>Source: Wolfe, David A. Child Abuse (2 nd Edition): Implications for Child Development and Psychopathology. 1999 </li></ul>How Risk & Protective Factors Interact with an Ecological/Transactional Model of Child Physical Abuse
    8. 8. Stage 1: Reduced Tolerance for Stress & Disinhibition of Aggression <ul><li>Destabilizing (Risk) Factors </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Poor child-rearing preparation </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Low sense of control and predictability </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Stressful life events </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Acceptance of physical punishment of children </li></ul></ul><ul><li>  Compensatory (Protective) Factors </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Socioeconomic stability </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Social supports and healthy models </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Supportive spouse </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Success at work and school </li></ul></ul>
    9. 9. Stage 2: Poor Management of Acute Crises and Provocation <ul><li>Destabilizing (Risk) Factors </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Conditioned emotional arousal to child behavior </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Multiple sources of anger and aggression </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Belief that child’s behavior is threatening or harmful to parent </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Compensatory (Protective) Factors </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Improvement in child behavior </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Community programs for parents </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Coping resources </li></ul></ul>
    10. 10. Stage 3: Chronic Patterns of Anger and Abuse <ul><li>Destabilizing (Risk) Factors </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Child habituates to physical punishment </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Parent is reinforced for using strict control techniques </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Child increases problem behavior </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Compensatory (Protective) Factors </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Parental dissatisfaction with physical punishment </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Child responds favorably to non-coercive methods </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Community restraints/services </li></ul></ul>

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