Intimate partner violence and child attachment: A systematic review and meta-analysis

Child Abuse Negl. 2020 Nov;109:104765. doi: 10.1016/j.chiabu.2020.104765. Epub 2020 Oct 8.


Background: Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) is associated with increased risk of impairment to a child's emotional, behavioural, and psychological functioning. Further, the presence of IPV is negatively associated with a child's attachment to their primary caregivers, which is an additional risk factor for social, emotional, and psychological impairment.

Objective: The aim of this systematic review and meta-analysis was to synthesise the evidence on the association between IPV and the attachment of infants, children, and adolescents to their primary caregiver/s.

Method: A systematic review was completed, in accordance with the PRISMA statement, on IPV and the parent-child attachment of infants, children, and adolescents (18 years and younger). Meta-analyses were conducted to estimate the magnitude of these associations.

Results: A total of 15 studies were included. IPV was significantly associated with less secure child attachment. The pooled effect sizes (Pearson's r) for both longitudinal studies (n = 5) and cross-sectional and retrospective studies combined (n = 10) were small (r = -.22, 95 % CI [-.32, -.12], p < .001; r = -.10, 95 % CI [-.203, -.001], p = .048). Subgroup analyses identified that the effect size was larger when IPV and attachment were measured during infancy compared to childhood, and when attachment was measured via observational methods compared to self-report.

Conclusion: While the current literature base is limited, findings can inform further research alongside clinical assessment and intervention. It can also help guide attachment- and family-based intervention for families impacted by IPV.

Keywords: Child abuse; Child attachment; Domestic violence; Infant attachment; Intimate partner violence; Meta-analysis.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Caregivers
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Intimate Partner Violence / psychology*
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Parent-Child Relations*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • Self Report