Parental relations and family functioning in non-offending caregivers of abused children

Parental relations and family functioning in non-offending caregivers of abused children

What was the aim of this research?

There is a small amount of research on family adjustment following child abuse disclosure. The aim of our research was to investigate perceived family relations and family functioning in non-offending caregivers (NOCs) of abused children compared with parents of non-abused children. In particular, we investigated whether parental history of abuse would influence NOCs’ perceptions of parent-child relations, spousal/partner relationship satisfaction, social support and family functioning compared to carers of non-abused children. We also examined if there was a relationship between parental depression and anxiety/stress in relation to parent-child relations, spousal/partner relationship satisfaction, social support and family functioning between the two parent groups.

How did we do it?

A self-report survey was completed by 92 NOCs and 94 parents of non-abused children from the Philippines. NOCs comprised biological parents, immediate relatives (e.g., aunt/uncle, grandparents), or foster caregivers who had been the main caregiver of the abused child for at least 6 to 12 months at the time of the assessment. The comparison group of parents were required to have at least one non-abused child aged 3 to 16 years at the time of the assessment.

What did we find?

NOCs of abused children reported poorer parent-child relations, lower spousal/partner relationship satisfaction, greater family disengagement and chaotic family functioning than parents of non-abused children. Furthermore, depressed and anxious/stressed parents (irrespective of whether their child was abused or not) reported significant conflictual and distant child-parent relationship, as well as poorer family functioning including poor communication and low family satisfaction. Interestingly however, parental abuse history did not have a moderating effect on any of the outcomes.

What does this mean in practice?

Our findings underscore the need to assess NOCs’ child and partner/spouse relations and family functioning in order to provide targeted interventions to improve family outcomes. In particular, clinical interventions targeting specific familial processes, such as poor quality of parent-child relations, lower family cohesion, family disengagement and disorganisation, may help in easing the potentially traumatic impact of child abuse disclosure to the family.

Citation: Cabbigat, F.K., & Kangas, M. (2017). Parental relations and family functioning in non-offending caregivers of abused children. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 1-12. doi:10.1007/s10826-017-0972-5

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