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Links between Community Violence and the Family System: Evidence from Children's Feelings of Relatedness and Perceptions of Parent Behavior*


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    Portions of these data were presented at the biennial meeting of the Society for Research in Child Development, Albuquerque NM, April 1999. We thank the staff and children at the Mt. Hope Family Center in Rochester NY for their assistance with this project. We also acknowledge the support of the Spunk Fund, Inc.


In this study, we examined some of the ways in which broader ecological systems may influence the organization of behavior within the family system. Specifically, links between exposure to community violence and children's relationships with maternal caregivers were investigated in a sample of 127 urban children between the ages of 7 and 13 years. Children were asked to indicate whether they had been exposed to a wide variety of violent events. In addition, their feelings of relatedness and separation anxiety, and their perceptions of maternal behavior were assessed. It was expected that exposure to community violence would be associated with feeling less secure with caregivers. Consistent with predictions from ecological-transactional theory, data supported this hypothesis. Children who reported that they had been exposed to high levels of community violence also indicated that they felt less positive affect when with their caregiver, were dissatisfied with how close they felt to her, felt more separation anxiety, and reported more negative maternal behavior than children exposed to less violence. Findings are discussed in terms of how violence may affect the family system and the protective function of human attachment.