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Long-Term Effects of Intimate Partner Violence on Children's Social Behavior


Children who have been exposed to intimate partner violence (IPV) experience a wide variety of short-term social adjustment and emotional difficulties. While children are affected at all ages, less is known about the long-term consequences of IPV exposure at younger ages. This study examined the impact of early IPV exposure (i.e., between birth and age 3), IPV exposure over time, and IPV severity on the development of children's prosocial skills and aggressive behavior. Additionally, the effect of maternal warmth and maternal depression over time on IPV-exposed children's social behavior trajectories was examined.

Secondary data analysis was conducted using the National Survey of Child and Adolescent Well-Being (NSCAW), a national longitudinal study designed to assess outcomes of children who have been abused or neglected. Latent growth curve modeling was used while controlling for maternal demographics, maternal substance use, household characteristics, and child maltreatment.

The more frequently children were exposed between birth and the age of 3 the more aggressive behavior problems were exhibited by age 8 compared to nonexposed children. When examining IPV exposure across time, IPV exposure was associated with increases in preschool age children's aggressive behavior and decreases in school age children's prosocial skills. Longer durations of exposure to severe forms of IPV were significantly related to higher aggressive behavior over time. Higher levels of maternal warmth were a significant predictor of increased prosocial skills over time while maternal depression was a significant indicator of increased aggressive behavior over time.

Understanding the developmental period of when IPV exposure has the greatest effect on children's development may provide insight into when to intervene before problem behaviors become more pervasive. Results from this study suggest that assessments conducted by social worker clinicians need to account for the child's age when IPV exposure began and the nature of exposure (i.e., duration and level of severity). Interventions should be targeted towards those children who are exposed when they are 3 years or younger, who have experienced longer duration or severe forms of IPV exposure, and who have mothers who are currently depressed or exhibiting low levels of maternal warmth.

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