Maternal Interpersonal Trauma and Child Social-Emotional Development: An Intergenerational Effect

Paediatr Perinat Epidemiol. 2017 Mar;31(2):99-107. doi: 10.1111/ppe.12341. Epub 2017 Jan 31.


Background: Evidence suggests that maternal interpersonal trauma can adversely affect offspring health, but little is known about potential transmission pathways. We investigated whether interpersonal trauma exposure had direct and indirect associations with offspring social-emotional development at 12-months of age in an at-risk, home visited population.

Methods: A retrospective cohort study was conducted of 1172 mother-child dyads who participated in a multi-site, early childhood home visiting program. Children were born January 2007 to June 2010 and data were collected at enrolment (prenatal/birth) through 12-months of age. Multivariable path analyses were used to examine the relationship between maternal interpersonal trauma, subsequent psychosocial mediators (maternal depressive symptoms, social support, and home environment), and the outcome of child social-emotional development measured with the Ages and Stages Questionnaire: Social-Emotional (ASQ:SE). Maternal interpersonal trauma was characterized as any previous exposure, the level of exposure, and type (e.g. abuse) of exposure.

Results: The prevalence of maternal interpersonal trauma exposure was 69.1%, and exposures ranged from 1 type (19.3%) to 7 types (2.3%). Interpersonal trauma was associated with a 3.6 point (95% confidence interval 1.8, 5.4) higher ASQ:SE score among offspring and indicated greater developmental risk. An estimated 23.4% of the total effect was mediated by increased maternal depressive symptoms and lower social support. Differential effects were observed by the level and type of interpersonal trauma exposure.

Conclusion: Maternal interpersonal trauma exposures can negatively impact child social-emotional development, acting in part through maternal psychosocial factors. Future research is needed to further elucidate the mechanisms of intergenerational risk.

Keywords: depression; home visiting; maternal interpersonal trauma; social support; social-emotional development.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Depression / psychology
  • Developmental Disabilities / psychology*
  • Emotions*
  • Exposure to Violence
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations*
  • Maternal Exposure
  • Mother-Child Relations
  • Mothers / psychology
  • Psychological Trauma / psychology*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Young Adult