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Parents’ Toxic Trio Ups Risk for Childhood Abuse Tenfold

Parents' Toxic Trio Ups Risk for Childhood Abuse TenfoldAdults who had parents who struggled with addiction, unemployment and divorce are 10 times more likely to have been victims of childhood physical abuse, according to a new study from Canadian researchers.

The study, which was published in the journal Child: Care, Health & Development, found that more than one-third of adults who grew up in homes where all three risk factors were present reported they had been physically abused by someone close to them while under the age of 18 and still living at home.

The study also found that only about 3 percent of those with none of the three risk factors reported they had been physically abused.

Approximately 13 percent of those with one risk factor reported childhood physical abuse. The prevalence of abuse was between 8 and 11 percent for those who had experienced parental divorce alone or parental unemployment alone.

Abuse increased to between 18 percent and 19 percent for those who experienced parental addictions alone, according to the researchers.

But the biggest jump in abuse prevalence was found when these risk factors occurred together. Between 25 and 30 percent of those who had experienced two risk factors reported they had been abused in childhood.

Among those with all three risk factors, the prevalence of abuse was between 36 and 41 percent, representing a ten-fold increase from the 3.4 percent reported by those without any of these risk factors, the researchers noted.

The study was based on two representative community samples, with one study conducted in 1995 and the second, with a different sample, in 2005. Each survey included approximately 13,000 Canadians aged 18 and older.

“We were so astonished by the magnitude of the association between the combination of these three risk factors and child abuse in the 1995 survey that we replicated the analysis with a different sample from a 2005 survey,” said co-author Jami-Leigh Sawyer, a University of Toronto doctoral student.

“The findings in both data sets were remarkably consistent and very worrisome.”

“It appears that children from homes with parental addictions, parental unemployment and parental divorce are particularly vulnerable to abuse,” said lead author Esme Fuller-Thomson, Ph.D.

“Such knowledge will hopefully improve the targeting of screening for childhood physical abuse.”

Source: University of Toronto

Parents’ Toxic Trio Ups Risk for Childhood Abuse Tenfold

Janice Wood

Janice Wood is a long-time writer and editor who began working at a daily newspaper before graduating from college. She has worked at a variety of newspapers, magazines and websites, covering everything from aviation to finance to healthcare.

APA Reference
Wood, J. (2018). Parents’ Toxic Trio Ups Risk for Childhood Abuse Tenfold. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 29, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 23 Dec 2012)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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