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The co-occurrence of child maltreatment and parental separation

Parental divorce or separation is for many children an adverse experience in itself. Particularly the transitional period just before and after the separation between parents, during which parents and children have to adapt to the disruptions in family life is stressful. Previous studies showed that during this turbulent period the parent-child relationship and parenting quality declined. Our study found that in a sample of 530 children indicated as victims of child maltreatment by professionals, 60% also experienced separation between parents.

Sheila van Berkel, Mariëlle Prevoo, Fieke Pannebakker, Lenneke Alink
13 October 2022
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Child maltreatment was associated with parental separation for the majority of children who experienced both child maltreatment and separation between parents (69%). Examples are cases in which children developed loyalty conflicts after being involved in mutual parental accusations, witnessed interparental verbal and/or physical violence or when challenges of single parenthood resulted in inadequate attention to the child’s emotional needs. Especially when there was a considerable amount of interparental conflict, child maltreatment was associated to the separation between parents.

Our results may imply that a considerable number of parents in the caseload of child protection agencies may need help with resolving relationship problems or problems with an ex-partner. It is clear that interparental relationship problems may be an important characteristic of maltreatment and therefore need considerable attention in interventions aimed at reducing child maltreatment.

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