Intergenerational Impacts of Family Violence - Mothers and Children in a Large Prospective Pregnancy Cohort Study

D. Gartland, R. Giallo, H. Woolhouse, F. Mensah, S. J. Brown

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Violence and other adversities commonly co-occur, yet are usually investigated individually. The primary objectives of this paper are to investigate: (i) the relationship between maternal exposure to violence (including childhood abuse and intimate partner violence) and postpartum mental and physical health; and (ii) the extent to which exposure to violence and poor maternal mental and physical health are associated with children's emotional-behavioral difficulties. Methods: Prospective pregnancy cohort (n = 1507) followed up to 4 year postpartum. Validated measures used: Composite Abuse Scale; Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale, SF-36, Child Maltreatment History Self Report; Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire. Logistic regression was used to investigate associations between maternal childhood abuse, intimate partner violence (IPV), maternal health and child emotional and behavioral difficulties at age 4. Outcomes: Two out of five women (41%) reported abuse in childhood, and almost one in three (29%) reported IPV during the first four years of motherhood. Women reporting both physical and sexual childhood abuse had markedly raised odds of IPV and poor physical and mental health at all time points (pregnancy, first year postpartum and four year postpartum). For the index child, violence exposures (maternal childhood abuse or IPV) and poor maternal physical or mental health were associated with higher odds of emotional/behavioral difficulties at age four. In multivariable models (adjusted for child gender and maternal age), cumulative exposures (multiple violence exposures or poor maternal mental or physical health at multiple time points) each independently added to increased odds of emotional-behavioral difficulties. Children of mothers who reported a history of childhood abuse but were not exposed to IPV had odds of difficulties similar to children of mothers not reporting any violence exposure, suggesting resilient outcomes where violence experiences are not repeated in the next generation. Interpretation: The clustering of risk (child and adult violence experiences) and the accumulation of risk within families (IPV, poor maternal health, child difficulties) highlight the need for effective early intervention to limit or ameliorate the impact of violence across the lifespan, and to break the intergenerational cycle of disadvantage.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)51-61
Number of pages11
Publication statusPublished or Issued - Oct 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Child abuse
  • Child outcomes
  • Family violence
  • Intergenerational
  • Intimate partner violence
  • Maternal health

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)

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