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child abuse, sexual abuse, low-income mothers social resources



  1. Hall, Lynne A.
  2. Sachs, Barbara
  3. Rayens, Mary Kay


Bakground: The mechanism by which some victims of childhood abuse become abusive parents, whereas others do not, is not well understood. Previous empirical evidence indicates that social resources may modify the cycle of abuse or maladaptive parenting; however, the effects of different dimensions of social resources have not been compared


Objectives: To determine whether a measure of mothers' potential for physical child abuse was related to their retrospective reports of physical and sexual abuse before 18 years of age and to investigate the potential buffering of multiple dimensions of social resources on the relationship between childhood abuse and mothers' potential for physical child abuse.


Methods: The potential role of social resources as a moderator of the relationship between a history of childhood abuse and potential for physical child abuse was investigated in 206 low-income single mothers of young children.


Results: The levels of physical and sexual abuse in childhood were positively associated with the mothers' child abuse potential; sexual abuse displayed the strongest association. Compared with mothers who were not sexually abused in childhood, those reporting violent sexual abuse as children were almost six times more likely to have high potential for physically abusing their children. There was no evidence that any of the social resources modified the relationship of either type of childhood abuse with the mothers' potential for abuse. However, all four dimensions of social resources demonstrated significant main effects on child abuse potential.


Conclusions: Low-income mothers face many stressors because of their lack of economic resources. This, coupled with a lack of social resources and a history of childhood abuse, makes low-income, single mothers particularly at risk for abusive parenting. The lives of these women and their children may be enhanced by assisting the women to improve their social resources which, ultimately, may reduce their potential for child abuse. Future research should focus on identifying factors that predict and/or modify the potential for abusive parenting as well as actual abuse.