Intergenerational Patterns of Maltreatment in Families at Risk for Foster Care


  • Lenore M. McWey, PhD, is an Associate Professor in the Marriage and Family Therapy (MFT) Doctoral Program in the Department of Family and Child Sciences at The Florida State University; Andrea Pazdera, PhD, is a faculty member in the MFT program at Northcentral University; Amber Vennum, PhD, is an Associate Professor in the MFT Program in the School of Family Studies and Human Services at Kansas State University; Armeda Wojciak, MS, is a doctoral student in the MFT Doctoral Program in the Department of Family and Child Sciences at The Florida State University.

  • This project was supported with a grant from the UK Center for Poverty Research through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation, grant number 5ASPE417-03. The opinions and conclusions expressed herein are solely those of the author(s) and should not be constructed as representing the opinions or policy of the UKCPR or any other agency of the Federal government.

Address correspondence to Lenore McWey, 210 Sandels Bldg., Tallahasse, Florida 32306-1491; E-mail:


Few qualitative studies have investigated the process of parental efforts to break intergenerational patterns of maltreatment. A grounded theory approach was used to understand how 24 parents who had been identified by CPS as being at-risk of having their children removed from their homes due to allegations of abuse and/or neglect, perceived and connected their own experiences of childhood abuse in light of their experiences as alleged perpetrators of child maltreatment. Three major categories were identified: patterns, beliefs, and behaviors. A majority of the parents stated that they recognized intergenerational patterns, most expressed that they wanted to be different from their own parents, yet many described parenting actions that were “destructive.” We suggest that it is the interrelationship amongst patterns, beliefs, and behaviors that may offer opportunities for parents and therapists to enact change.