Attributions and behaviours of parents abused as children: a mediational analysis of the intergenerational continuity of child maltreatment (Part II)


Louise Dixon, School of Psychology, University of Birmingham, Edgbaston, Birmingham B15 2TT, UK; Email:


Background:  This study extends previous research (Dixon, Browne, & Hamilton-Giachritsis, 2004) by exploring the mediational properties of parenting styles and their relation to risk factors in the intergenerational cycle of child maltreatment. Families with newborns where at least one of the parents was physically and/or sexually abused as a child (AP families) were compared, in terms of parents’ attributions and behaviour, to families where the parents had no childhood history of victimisation (NAP families).

Methods:  Information was collected from 4351 families (135 AP families) by community nurses as part of the ‘health visiting’ service. The same health visitor visited each family twice at home when the child was 4 to 6 weeks and 3 to 5 months of age, to assess behavioural indicators of positive parenting.

Results:  Within 13 months after birth, 9 (6.7%) AP families were referred for maltreating their own child in comparison to 18 (.4%) NAP families. Assessments found a significantly higher number of risk factors and measures indicating poor parenting for AP families. Mediational analysis found that intergenerational continuity of child maltreatment was explained to a larger extent (62% of the total effect) by the presence of poor parenting styles together with the three significant risk factors (parenting under 21 years, history of mental illness or depression, residing with a violent adult). The three risk factors alone were less explanatory (53% of the total effect).

Conclusion:  This study provides an explanation for why a minority of parents abused in childhood go on to maltreat their own infant, evidencing poor parenting styles and mediating risk factors. Hence, prevention may be enhanced in AP families by the promotion of ‘positive parenting’ in addition to providing additional support to young parents, tackling mental illness/depression and domestic violence problems.