Objective: To identify and validate factors within the parental background affecting risk of child maltreatment.
Method: A nested case-control study based on the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children ("Children of the Nineties"), a cohort of children born in Avon in 1991 through 1992. Data on the childhood and psychiatric histories of the parents, along with other data on the social and family environments, have been collected through postal questionnaires from early antenatal booking onwards.
Results: Out of 14,138 participating children, 162 have been identified as having been maltreated. Using logistic regression analysis, significant risk factors within the mothers' backgrounds were age < 20; lower educational achievement; history of sexual abuse; child guidance or psychiatry; absence of her father during childhood; and a previous history of psychiatric illness. Significant factors in the fathers' backgrounds were age < 20; lower educational achievement; having been in care during childhood; and a history of psychiatric illness. Significant factors on univariate, but not multivariate analysis included a parental history of childhood physical abuse; divorce or separation of the mother's parents; a maternal history of having been in care, or separated from her mother; parental alcohol or drug abuse; and a maternal history of depression.
Conclusions: This study, the first of its kind in the UK, supports the findings of others that parental age, educational achievement, and a history of psychiatric illness are of prime importance in an understanding of child maltreatment. With the exception of maternal sexual abuse, a history of abuse in childhood is not significant once adjusted for other background factors. The study suggests that psychodynamic models are inadequate to explain child maltreatment, and wider models incorporating other ecological domains are needed.