Associations between Early Childhood Exposure to Three Types of Intimate Partner Violence and Preschool-Aged Children's Behavioral and Cognitive Outcomes: Do Maternal Depression, Parental Stress, and Harsh Parenting Mediate the Associations?
*Names in bold indicate Presenter
Intimate partner violence (IPV) is a social and public health problem, which has negative effects on children’s as well as victims’ wellbeing. Approximately, one in four children lives in a household in which some type of IPV (e.g., physical abuse, emotional/psychological abuse, coercive controlling violence, and so on) will occur during their childhood. Most are exposed to the violence by seeing and hearing it. In many states, such exposure is considered a form of child maltreatment. Despite the sizable proportion of children exposed to IPV, the issue receives less attention in the research and practice than other forms of abuse and neglect. Current evidence suggests that IPV is negatively associated with maternal mental health, parenting quality, and children’s behavioral and cognitive development. In addition, studies show that the negative associations of IPV with child outcomes are similar to those of other forms of child abuse and neglect. Whereas a number of studies have examined these associations for older children and adolescents, few studies have examined associations of early childhood exposure to different types of IPV with preschool-aged children’s wellbeing.
The current study uses the first four waves of the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study (FFCWS) to examine associations between early childhood exposure to three types of IPV (i.e., physical abuse, psychological/emotional abuse, and coercive controlling violence) at age 1 and children’s behavioral and cognitive outcomes at age 5, paying particular attention to the mediating roles of maternal depression, parental stress, and harsh parenting at age 3. The final sample was limited to 2,489 mothers who were married or romantically involved with the child’s father at age 1. Three types of IPV, including physical IPV, emotional/psychological IPV, and coercive controlling IPV, are measured from mothers who completed the FFCWS survey at Year 1. Children’s behavior problems are measured in two domains, externalizing and internalizing, using the Child Behavior Checklist. Cognitive functioning is measured via the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test and Woodcock-Johnson-Revised Letter-Word Identification Test. This study utilizes ordinary least squares regressions and Sobel-Goodman mediation tests.
Results suggest that the psychological/emotional IPV is significantly associated with increased externalizing and internalizing behaviors. The association between coercive controlling IPV and children’s behavioral problems becomes insignificant after adjusting for the mediators. There is lack of significant association between physical IPV and child behavioral problems. None of the IPV measures shows significant associations with child cognitive functioning. Rather, cognitive skills were associated with the characteristics of the child (sex, low birth weight), mother (race/ethnicity, education), and household (poverty-to-needs ratio, the number of children in household, marital status).
The current study not only expands knowledge regarding associations of early-life IPV exposure with child developmental, but also has clinical implications: Early interventions improving the child’s behavioral problems affected by IPV should be targeted to young children to prevent adverse outcomes on their later development.