The Intergenerational Continuity of Child Maltreatment: An Examination of Adolescent, Young Adult, and Reproductive Risk Factors Among High-Risk Women
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Although a history of childhood maltreatment is widely considered to be a risk factor for the perpetration of abuse or neglect in successive generations, the intergenerational transmission theory of child maltreatment has demonstrated mixed support over more than three decades of research. Using a prospective, longitudinal design, this study sought to investigate adolescent, young adult, and reproductive risk factors for the intergenerational continuity of child maltreatment, analyzing data from a sample of 147 women with a history of childhood maltreatment and child welfare services involvement (CWS), juvenile justice system (JJS) involvement, and out-of-home placements. The participants were originally recruited in adolescence for a randomized control trial (RCT) assessing the impact of the Treatment Foster Care Oregon (TFCO) intervention. Maltreatment continuity was measured using both official CWS records and participant self-report of contact with CWS. More than half the sample (n = 79, 53.7%) demonstrated maltreatment discontinuity (MD), indicating no evidence of maltreatment of offspring, and under half demonstrated maltreatment continuity (MC; n = 68, 46.3%). Using separate logistic regression analyses to test three models, results indicated that higher levels of hard drug use in adolescence increased the likelihood of maltreatment continuity at young adult follow-up by 47%. Partner risk in young adulthood was a strong predictor of maltreatment continuity, increasing the likelihood of maltreatment of offspring by over 2 times, or 103%. Marijuana use in young adulthood also emerged as strong predictor of MC, but not in the expected direction: higher levels of marijuana use were associated with a 56% decreased likelihood of MC. An older age at first birth significantly predicted a 52% decreased likelihood of maltreating offspring. Study limitations, future directions, and implications for interventions are discussed.