Media Releases

Parents’ addiction, unemployment and divorce are risk factors for childhood abuse

December 18, 2012

TORONTO, ON – Adults who had par­ents who strug­gled with addic­tion, unem­ploy­ment and divorce are 10 times more like­ly to have been vic­tims of child­hood phys­i­cal abuse, accord­ing to a new study pre­pared by the Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to’s Fac­tor-Inwen­tash Fac­ul­ty of Social Work.

The study, which was pub­lished online this week in the jour­nal Child: Care, Health & Devel­op­ment, found that more than one-third of adults who grew up in homes where all three risk fac­tors were present report­ed they had been phys­i­cal­ly abused by some­one close to them while under the age of 18 and still liv­ing at home.

The results found that only 3.4 per cent of those with none of the three risk fac­tors report­ed they had been phys­i­cal­ly abused. How­ev­er, with each addi­tion­al risk fac­tor expe­ri­enced, the preva­lence of child­hood phys­i­cal abuse increased dra­mat­i­cal­ly.

Approx­i­mate­ly 13 per cent of those with one risk fac­tor report­ed child­hood phys­i­cal abuse (CPA). The preva­lence of child phys­i­cal abuse was between 8% and 11% for those who had expe­ri­enced parental divorce alone or parental unem­ploy­ment alone but increased to between 18% and 19% for those who expe­ri­enced parental addic­tions alone. Between 25 per cent and 30 per cent of those who had expe­ri­enced two risk fac­tors report­ed they had been abused in child­hood. Among those with all three risk fac­tors, the preva­lence of CPA was between 36 and 41 per cent, rep­re­sent­ing a ten-fold increase from the 3.4 per cent report­ed by those with­out any of these risk fac­tors. The study was based on two rep­re­sen­ta­tive com­mu­ni­ty sam­ples, one study con­duct­ed in 1995 and the sec­ond, with a dif­fer­ent sam­ple, in 2005. Each sur­vey includ­ed approx­i­mate­ly 13,000 Cana­di­ans aged 18 and old­er.

“We were so aston­ished by the mag­ni­tude of the asso­ci­a­tion between the com­bi­na­tion of these three risk fac­tors and child abuse in the 1995 sur­vey that we repli­cat­ed the analy­sis with a dif­fer­ent sam­ple from a 2005 sur­vey,” says co-author Jami-Leigh Sawyer, a Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to doc­tor­al stu­dent and a social work­er at Toronto’s Hos­pi­tal for Sick Chil­dren. “The find­ings in both data sets were remark­ably con­sis­tent and very wor­ri­some.”

The study’s find­ings have impor­tant clin­i­cal impli­ca­tions for pedi­a­tri­cians, fam­i­ly doc­tors, social work­ers and oth­er health­care providers work­ing with chil­dren and their fam­i­lies, says lead author Esme Fuller-Thom­son, San­dra Rot­man Chair at Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to’s Fac­tor-Inwen­tash Fac­ul­ty of Social Work and Depart­ment of Fam­i­ly and Com­mu­ni­ty Med­i­cine. “It appears that chil­dren from homes with parental addic­tions, parental unem­ploy­ment and parental divorce are par­tic­u­lar­ly vul­ner­a­ble to abuse. Such knowl­edge will hope­ful­ly improve the tar­get­ing of screen­ing for child­hood phys­i­cal abuse.”


For more infor­ma­tion, please con­tact:

Esme Fuller-Thom­son
Pro­fes­sor & San­dra Rot­man Chair
Fac­tor-Inwen­tash Fac­ul­ty of Social Work
Phone: 011 (33) 7 60 32 1550

Jami-Leigh Sawyer
Doc­tor­al Can­di­date
Fac­tor-Inwen­tash Fac­ul­ty of Social Work
Phone: 905–741-2237