Objective: The purpose of this research was to investigate, within an at-risk population, parent and child characteristics associated with a mother's self-reports of severe physical assault and assault on the self-esteem of the child in the first 3 years of life.
Design: The study population consisted of a community-based sample of mothers of newborns identified as at-risk for child maltreatment (n=595). Families were assessed annually from the child's birth through age 3 using instruments with established psychometric properties. Independent variables investigated included: family socio-demographics, parity, mother's social support, maternal depression, maternal problem drug or alcohol use, partner violence, child's age, child's sex, low birth weight/small for gestational age (SGA), and mother's perception of child's demand level. Associations with maltreatment were examined using multivariable methods for longitudinal data.
Results: Child severe physical assault was significantly associated with parent characteristics (maternal depression and partner violence); and child characteristics (SGA). Assault to the child's self-esteem was significantly associated with maternal depression, maternal illicit drug use, partner violence and mother's perception of child's demand level. Controlling for family sociodemographic characteristics did not change the associations. Likewise, while mother's perception of child demand level had an independent association with self-esteem assault, the associations described above persisted while demand level was held constant. In this high-risk sample, abuse was not associated with mother's age, education, race, parity, or household income level.
Conclusions: While characteristics such as SGA can serve as markers for increased abuse risk, they are not amenable to intervention after the child is born. However, certain other risk factors, such as maternal depression and domestic violence are malleable and should be targeted for intervention with the goal of preventing child maltreatment.