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Intimate partner violence as a mechanism underlying the intergenerational transmission of maltreatment among economically disadvantaged mothers and their adolescent daughters

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  17 December 2018

Tangeria R. Adams*
Mt. Hope Family Center, University of Rochester
Elizabeth D. Handley
Mt. Hope Family Center, University of Rochester
Jody Todd Manly
Mt. Hope Family Center, University of Rochester
Dante Cicchetti
Mt. Hope Family Center, University of Rochester Institute of Child Development, University of Minnesota
Sheree L. Toth*
Mt. Hope Family Center, University of Rochester
Authors for correspondence and reprint requests: Sheree L. Toth, Mt. Hope Family Center, University of Rochester, 187 Edinburgh Street, Rochester, NY 14608; E-mail: Tangeria R. Adams, Mt. Hope Family Center, University of Rochester, 187 Edinburgh Street, Rochester, NY 14608; E-mail:
Authors for correspondence and reprint requests: Sheree L. Toth, Mt. Hope Family Center, University of Rochester, 187 Edinburgh Street, Rochester, NY 14608; E-mail: Tangeria R. Adams, Mt. Hope Family Center, University of Rochester, 187 Edinburgh Street, Rochester, NY 14608; E-mail:


Child maltreatment represents a pervasive societal problem. Exposure to maltreatment is predictive of maladjustment across development with enduring negative effects found in adulthood. Compelling evidence suggests that some parents with a history of child abuse and neglect are at elevated risk for the maltreatment of their own children. However, a dearth of research currently exists on mediated mechanisms that may underlie this continuity. Ecological and transactional theories of child maltreatment propose that child maltreatment is multiply determined by various risk factors that exist across different ecological systems. Intimate partner violence (IPV) often co-occurs with child maltreatment and may represent a pathway through which risk for child abuse and neglect is transmitted across generations within a family. Informed by theories on the intergenerational transmission of child maltreatment and utilizing a community-based, cross-sectional sample of 245 racially and ethnically diverse, low-income mothers and daughters, the objective of this study was to investigate IPV as a propagating process through which risk of child abuse and neglect is conferred from parent to child. We found evidence suggesting that mothers’ history of maltreatment is associated with both their IPV involvement and their adolescent daughters’ maltreatment victimization (with exposure to IPV as a maltreatment subtype excluded for clarity). Maternal IPV also partially accounted for the continuity of maltreatment victimization from mother to adolescent. A secondary analysis that included the adolescent's own engagement in dating violence provided compelling but preliminary evidence of the emergence of a similar pattern of relational violence, whereby adolescent girls with maltreatment histories were likewise involved in abusive intimate relationships. Future directions and clinical implications of these findings are discussed.

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Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2018 

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This work was supported by National Institute of Mental Health Grant R01MH091070. Special thanks to the families who participated and made this study possible.


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