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Parental Addiction, Divorce Increase Risk of Child Abuse

Update Date: Dec 22, 2012 12:18 PM EST

A new study suggests that children, whose parents struggle with addiction, unemployment, divorce etc, are 10 times more likely to be victims of childhood physical abuse than others.

The study, which was conducted by researchers from the University of Toronto's Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work, has found that more than one-third of adults whose families were affected by all three factors reported being physically abused by someone close to them while under the age of 18.

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The study revealed that only 3.4 per cent of those whose families were not affected with any of these issues reported being physically abused while growing up. However, it was found that each additional factor contributed to the risk of childhood physical abuse dramatically.

According to the study, about 13 percent of those with one risk factor reported childhood physical abuse (CPA).

It seems the prevalence of CPA was between 8 and 11 percent in families where parents were undergoing divorce or unemployment alone. However, this risk increased to about 18 and 19 percent in families with parental addictions alone.

About 30 percent of those who had 2 factors affecting the family reported being abused in childhood. And for those with all three risk factors, the prevalence of CPA was between 36 and 41 per cent, which is 10 times more when compared to families with no risk factors.  

"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 findings of the study are of significance  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 the University of Toronto's Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work and Department of Family and Community Medicine, according to Medical Xpress.

"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."

The study was published online this week in the journal Child: Care, Health & Development.

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